By Jenna Goff
Brookhaven Police Officer John Ritch credits his partner with saving his life.
“I broke my leg in two places while chasing a subject and couldn’t move,” he said. “Grizz apprehended the suspect and gave me time to call for backup. He’s a great partner.”
Grizz is a police dog. He and Ritch, who have seven years of experience together, joined the Brookhaven force in March of this year.
Grizz’s work doesn’t just affect Ritch. “With just the knowledge that Brookhaven has police dogs, crime has already gone down,” Ritch said.
Officer David Fikes hopes that the Brookhaven’s newest police dog, Dano, can live up to Grizz’s example. The two passed certification on July 8.
A Belgian Malinois and Tervuren mix, Dano is Grizz’s son. He came to Brookhaven with Fikes and with no experience in police dog work.
“He was what we call a ‘green dog,’ a dog with no background,” said Fikes. “We went through 10 weeks of training.”
Of the many duties he had to tackle, Dano learned controlled apprehensions. He was taught to use just enough force to keep more dangerous suspects from running without seriously hurting them, Fikes said.
In a recent demonstration, the dog apprehended Ritch as if he were a suspect. Dano fiercely grabbed Ritch’s arm and only backed down when told to by Fikes.
But in the majority of situations, the dogs are not required to use force, the officer said.
“Nine out of 10 times, a dog is shown and not used,” said Ritch. “You can have a bad guy who wants to fight, but when you bring a 90-pound dog out, they want to give up. Our goal is to use as little force as possible.”
Controlled apprehension is based completely on command. A police dog will not attack unless told to by his officer, usually under extreme circumstances. “To a dog, there are no bad guys,” Ritch said. “To apprehend somebody is no different than learning how to sit.”
But apprehension is only a small part of what Dano learned in training.
“Dano and Grizz are dual-purpose dogs,” said Fikes. “They have a patrol background and are trained in narcotics detection.”
Many police dogs are single-purpose dogs, which means they are trained in narcotics detection only. Fikes said that this was the easiest part of training.
Narcotics detection begins around the fourth or fifth week of training. Dogs, which have a powerful sense of smell, learn to recognize the scent of various drugs.
“The dogs never ingest anything, and never become addicted,” said Ritch. “They are trained in scent recognition only.”
In addition to narcotics detection and controlled apprehension, Dano also mastered obedience, temperament, searching buildings, searching open areas and tracking.
“The dogs are utilized to find lost or missing people by tracking human scent,” Ritch said. “It is the most rewarding work as a policeman and a parent.”
He added the dogs generally enjoy all areas of their work. “They work for us, because it’s play for them,” he said. “They live to work, so they love to work.”