St. Charles County Police K9 Unit is more than meets the eye
By Kristen Dragotto
Police departments function as a team, with each member bringing a different skill set to provide effective law enforcement to the community. This is especially true when it comes to the four-legged members of the St. Charles County Police Department.
The St. Charles County Police Department’s K9 Unit is overseen by Lieutenant Rick Luetkenhaus. This unit has six canines and handlers. In addition, the department has robot-canines used for public events. Each K9 offers a unique gift in helping this law enforcement agency. Sergeant Brigid Oldani and Officers Ron Nuepert, Mike Thomas and Courtney Spiess work with the K9s.
Oldani has been with SCCPD for approximately three years and during her time with the department she has acquired a companion that has made her dreams come true – K9 Bonnie. Bonnie is a five-year-old Labrador Retriever, who was originally intended to be a guide dog for the Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Bonnie had too much drive for the job; however, unable to be broken from pulling on the leash she was released from her program. But it was her drive and love of smelling all things that made her a great fit for law enforcement. Bonnie was then evaluated and chosen to be trained in electronic storage device detection. What makes her ability so unique is that Bonnie is one of a handful in the country with this unique training and the only one in the state of Missouri.
K9 Tyson is a seven-year-old German Shephard who is partnered with Thomas. Tyson is from Shallow Creek Kennels in Pennsylvania and is trained in all aspects of patrol including: narcotic detection, tracking and evidence recovery. All of those skills come with a lot of hard work for both Tyson and Thomas.
“We do some type of training every day. I’ll set up some type of exercise for him just to keep his brain active and challenge him just a little bit,” Thomas explained.
In addition to the daily training that Thomas does with Tyson, they are both required to go to sixteen hours of departmental training a month. Despite the stressful work environment and intense training, Thomas ensures that Tyson has a normal “dog life” at home. Making exercise a priority for Tyson, the two go on runs together and play fetch. Tyson’s favorite pastime activity at home is playing with a tennis ball.
Another patrol K9 is Slovakian native Tank who has been with the SCCPD’s K9 Unit and Spiess for three years. Tank is a Hanoverian Hound and turned four years old this past June. He is well versed as he is certified in tracking, trailing, narcotic detection and evidence recovery. He started his training young and became certified in tracking and trailing at nine months old, which is highly unusual but Tank proved to be exceptional in his ability to do the task at hand. It has been his dedication to the job that has allowed him to have five lifesaving finds so far in his career, all involving tracking and trailing; this is fitting as it is what Tank’s career is primarily focused on. Tank is perfect in cases involving tracking missing persons because he is nonaggressive. Spiess and Tank have been called to assist other departments with Tank’s expertise.
Spiess keeps Tank on his toes with training involving all areas he is certified in, in addition to his 16 hours of departmental training. Spiess describes Tank as hardworking, dedicated and eager to do the job. Despite his admirable work ethic, he still finds time to be a happy, normal dog in his off time at home.
Working as a K9 does not come without it risks. K9s that certified in narcotic dedication are at risk of overdosing. SCCPD and their K9 Unit have ensured that there are extra precautions taken.
The K9 Unit does a lot more than just patrol, it also focuses on community outreach. Neupert is School Resource Officer for the Francis Howell School District. Neupert works with the department’s K-9 robot that is known as Officer Bailey. Bailey is a new addition to the robotic-canine family joining the department in fall of 2018. The robotic canine rides around in her own patrol car. In addition to her mobility, the robotic canine has a microphone in which officers can speak and hear through, her car also has lights like a police vehicle.
Thomas explained these extra precautions, “One of the things our department (did) was reach out to our local vet. They came in and did a class for us on first aid for the dogs. A portion of that class included (instruction on) Narcan, for the dogs. All the officers here carry Narcan on their person but the K9 officers carry two or three additional doses for the dogs just in case they end up with an exposure. In addition to this precaution, the K9s are also monitored after exposure to narcotics to make sure that there are no health concerns that come up.”
Bailey is used for public events and those public events often involve children. Bailey makes appearances at schools and daycares visiting classrooms to discuss safety with children in a fun-interactive way.
“It relays information to the little people (and they) are the ones (the events) are all about. We try to do programs that circle around safety, including: bicycle and helmet safety, stranger danger – things around those lines. During these sessions (the kids) are having fun and at the same time taking something away from it.”
The K9 Unit participates in many events throughout the year. For those interested in learning more, upcoming events include The National Night Out in August where Officer Bailey will make an appearance and Paws in the Park on Sep 14 where the K9 Unit will host a demonstration.
CUTLINE: Photo by Kristen Dragotto