By Katie Fallon
To drug dealers and users in Sandy Springs, here is an advanced warning: If you have drugs in Sandy Springs, a girl named Romy is going to come after you.
Actually, it could be Romy or Amos, who are both three-year-old Malinois that serve in the Sandy Springs Police Department’s K-9 Unit. Each has their human partners in the form of Officers Sean Hanse and Michael DeWald respectively.
Both Hanse and DeWald have been with the police department since it debuted in July of last year and both live with their canine partners to maintain the bond necessary for a successful; K-9 Unit.
“Bonding is the most important thing,” Hanse said. “The bonding issue is huge. Plus, we’re on call 24/7.”
In addition to the ongoing bond between the dogs and their handlers, 16 hours of training must be completed every month to maintain industry standards. DeWald and Hanse usually complete four hours of training per week or two eight-hour training sessions.
“The only people who handle the dogs besides us is the vet,” DeWald said. “The dog will continue to train until it retires.”
During the monthly training sessions, the dogs are run through exercises that involve hiding drugs, finding people hidden in buildings and laying tracks to find fugitives or missing persons. Part of the training is also balancing the home bond versus the work bond.
“She’s a sweetheart at home,” Hanse said of Romy. “She knows when she’s at home. When she’s on duty, she a sweet dog on duty, but when I give her that command, her whole mindset is totally different.”
Hanse, a former member of the Fulton County Police Department’s K-9 Unit, said while his partner rides home with him at the end of every shift, she is not quite treated like a member of the family, which for Hanse includes wife Nancy, 2-year-old son Sean and 3-month-old son Gregory.
“She’s not a house pet,” he said. “They’re working dogs. Some officers make their [K-9] dogs pets, but to me, I have a finely tuned machine.”
Like Romy, DeWald’s partner Amos is an outside dog and brought in only during extreme weather conditions.
“He’s more comfortable outside,” DeWald said. “That’s what he’s used to.”
But what both dogs are used to is hitting the streets every day to find even the smallest amount of illegal drugs or even drug residue. Both officers work standard shifts, but alternate weeks when they are on-call and can be sent out at all hours of the night.
“We have a regular shift that we work and we’re out there being proactive,” DeWald said. “
We’re stopping cars and locking up drug dealers.”
Hanse said their hours really do vary and that a speeding driver could find the flashing lights of a K-9 Unit in their rearview mirror morning, noon and night. And if drugs are present in their cars, those people will not get around an arrest simply by refusing consent to search their vehicle. DeWald, a former member of the DeKalb County Police Department, said even if that occurs, a K-9 dog can be released and if the dog gives an alert, that gives them probable cause to search the vehicle.
”The bad guys know that even if they refuse consent and we have a dog, they’re done,” Hanse said. “You can see them in the dashboard video. They drop their head in that defeated position.”
In fact, Hanse said both Romy and Amos have their specialties.
“[Romy] loves doing patrol work. She takes the more tactical approach,” he said. “[DeWald’s] dog is outstanding on drug enforcement.”
Both officers have been involved in quite a few memorable busts, one of which included tracking down a burglar who broke into city councilwoman Ashley Jenkins’ house early on a recent Wednesday morning.
“The dogs played a key role in that,” DeWald said. “We found which way he was going so the dogs were on his track and located [Jenkins’] property. It worked out very well.”
Indeed, the suspect in the burglary of Jenkins’ house was tracked from a car he left on Glenridge Drive that he had stolen from Alpharetta earlier that night. The footprints the suspect made matched the footprint made when he kicked in the back door to Jenkins’ house.
Through the training of the K-9 unit, though, police were able to recover a receipt and package of Altoids the suspect threw from Jenkins’ purse.
Jenkins has nothing but praise for Hanse, DeWald and their furry friends.
“It was amazing,” Jenkins said. “The dogs were on the guy the whole time. There are tremendous folks. They do a great job.”
To thank the K-9 Unit for its hard work, Jenkins and her two young children brought a gift of dog food and various treats to the police department for Amos and Romy.
DeWald stressed that the success of the unit cannot have been achieved without the generosity of the donations that paid for both the purchase of the dogs and the initial training. His dog came to the city though DAD/AC (Dogs Against Drugs/Against Crime) and the National Criminal Enforcement Association and Hanse’s dog was acquired via a private donation.