Meet Johnson City’s lively five: K9 officers play to keep skills sharp

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tuesday might have been a “work” day for the Johnson City Police Department’s K9 unit.

But for Sgts. Arya, Kilo, Pico, Bosco and Deuce, it’s the best day of the month.

To keep their crime senses sharp, the K9 officers take one day a month to train with their handlers – basic commands, tracking and apprehension training sessions make up the course work for the day.

Johnson City has five K9 officers – four are “dual purpose,” meaning they are trained for patrol work in addition to narcotics training. Patrol work can mean tracking a suspect, searching a building or apprehending someone for a crime.

The fifth officer, Sgt. Deuce, is a German Shepherd trained to sniff out explosives and can be spotted on the job at city events and festivals.

Sgt. Deuce doesn’t waste any time when it comes to tracking – he’s specially-trained to sniff out explosives.
But today, he just wants his toy.

His favorite exercise of the day is tracking. His handler, Officer Mark Ragan, carries one of his toys away from the training site, and Deuce tracks the scent to find the toy in a matter of minutes.

Investigator Jeff Legault has worked in the JCPD K9 unit for almost a decade, and has been in charge of the unit for the past three years.

His own unit, Sgt. Pico, specializes in narcotics tracking. Pico is a four-year-old Belgian Malinois from the Netherlands. His commands are in German.

Pico responds to training with gusto, but if you catch him at home, Legault said you’ll probably find him lazing on the couch.

Despite Pico’s vigilant composure and hard work on the job, Legault said Pico’s favorite day off involves a tennis ball and a lazy day on the sofa.

“They all take on the owner’s, or their handler’s personality too, so they’re all goofy in their own little way and they all have their own little personalities,” Legault said. “It’s fun to watch them, it’s actually fun to work with all the dogs here.”

Arya, a two-year-old Malinois, is the youngest of the unit, and the only female K9 unit on the team. She was born in the Netherlands and got her training at a facility in Ohio.

Arya, the youngest K9 officer of the unit, takes her name from Arya Stark from the HBO series ‘Game of Thrones.’

Bosco, another Belgian Malinois, is the oldest of the five and joined the team through a Jonesborough training facility.

Bosco is eager to start a tracking exercise. He and three of the other K9 officers are dual-purpose dogs, meaning they are trained as patrol dogs as well as narcotics detection dogs.

Most of the dogs hail from Europe through vendors in the U.S. Legault said the price tag on a K9 officer can reach about $13,000 once the dog is trained, certified and ready to start working.

But the training doesn’t stop after graduation from the training academy – K9 officers must be re-certified, so monthly training days are scheduled for the five officers and their handlers.

During those sessions, Legault and the other handlers work to make each situation unique for their K9s so they don’t fall into habit.

An officer dressed with protective padding hides in different places in the building, giving the K9 officers the chance to sniff him out just as they would a burglary or robbery suspect on the run. Officers try to switch up each scenario to mirror a real-life call the department could get at any moment.

“Their main purpose is to try to stay available for all the hot calls – the burglaries, robberies, stuff like that,” Legault explained.

While the dogs are a tool for the officers at work, when it’s time to hang up the badge, they go home as a part of the family.

“To me, it’s the best job out of any police department every day, you get to take your dog to work with you every day, so who gets that opportunity, you know?” Legault said.

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