Officer Mike DeWald loves to talk.
Ask him about his passion for training police dogs to make narcotics arrests and he will spend 10 minutes detailing the difference between how dogs sniff versus breathe.
He’ll turn laymen into experts when it comes to understanding “scent habituation,” the base components of drugs and how dogs identify them.
And don’t even get him started on the “globalization of drug problems that people don’t realize” and how buying a small amount of marijuana helps fund terrorism.
“Nobody smuggles two pounds across the border; it comes in bulk,” he said. “It’s like anything else. It’s the same principle as any other commodity.”
But DeWald scrambles to find words when asked how he earned statewide recognition from the American Legion as “Officer of the Year.”
Each year, the American Legion gives its National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award to a well-rounded law enforcement officer who has exceeded the duty requirements expected of his or her position and has demonstrated a distinct pattern of community service coupled with professional achievement, Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone said.
DeSimone is also commander of the Buckhead American Legion Post 140. On July 13, Immediate-Past District Commander Eddie Asberry presented DeWald with the state award, DeSimone said.
But DeWald said he had no idea it was coming.
“I just got a call from my chief,” he said.
DeWald said he knew at the end of 2013 that he earned an award for officer of the year at the post level, but he didn’t expect he would be named officer of the year for the state. Now, DeWald and the rest of SSPD are waiting to see if he earns national recognition at the American Legion conference, which is set for Aug. 28 through Sept. 3 in Baltimore.
He acts humbly, but DeWald admits he wears “a lot of hats.”
He is the K-9 Unit supervisor and departmental trainer, and he’s one of only four active certifying officials in Georgia recognized by the National Narcotics Dog Detection Association, which is the largest certifying body in the country, he said.
“I’m a certifying official and I certify law enforcement dogs in the disciplines of narcotics detection and police service dogs,” he said. “So, I got my judgeship to certify dogs.”
Fumbling over words about why he’s been praised in his career, DeWald defers to his dog, a nearly 9-year-old Belgian Malinois named Rock.
“My dog and I, as a team, assist other agencies,” he said. “I’m deputized, so I go all over and help people.”
Rock and DeWald help Dunwoody, Brookhaven, Atlanta and other local cities as well as help specialized units with Sandy Springs police, he said. They also assist other officers in Homeland Security and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, DeWald said.
“Anybody who needs canine assistance, I’m always there for them,” he said. “I have a passion for what I do.”
He said he figures he’s developed a reputation for helping others and working hard as a “proactive” law enforcement official. “In all honesty, I just go out and work hard,” he said. “I don’t go out and show people what I’ve got. It just makes its way up to the chief’s office.”
A lot of officers have written commendations for DeWald’s assistance, he said, but he said he wasn’t looking to stand out. “I could sit here and name 15 people off the top of my head who could have gotten this award for the work that they do,” DeWald said.
“It’s not because I wear the badge and the patch here, but I honestly see the caliber of officers here,” he said. “We have some of the finest officers in the state here, so for me to receive this award, considering my company, is humbling.”
DeWald said his great-great-great-uncle was a Newark, N.J., state cop in 1900. But he doesn’t consider his passion to have come from his familial connection to police work.
“I always had an interest in public safety,” he said. He admitted he didn’t know exactly what he was getting into with law enforcement when he joined his first police department in Kennesaw, but he quickly focused his career on narcotics.
He transferred to DeKalb County police and left after five years for the opportunity to start the Sandy Springs Police Department as one of its first officers.
“I left DeKalb County to come here for the opportunity to be part of something you just can’t become part of—like starting a new police department,” he said. “I came over here and we started the K-9 Unit. I wanted to build on that to have what we have today, and I continue building.”
DeWald explains his accomplishments by attributing his success to his dog.
“Basically, Rock’s in charge,” he said. “I’m just the guy behind the leash.”