RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB) - They call a dog a man's best friend. But, they can also be a partner in crime; fighting crime that is.
It’s something the Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office's K9 Unit proved recently after a couple of big arrests. But, what makes this possible?
For Deputy Justin Johnson, it started as a passion.
"I've always worked with dogs and enjoyed working with dogs," explained Dep. Johnson.
It soon turned into a profession.
"The opportunity was presented to me, so I was able to become a handler," said Dep. Johnson.
He’s been handler with RPSO for about a year. He now spends his time with his partner, Beny.
"I’m learning from him and he's learning from me," said Dep. Johnson.
Corporal John Deville has been at it for about six and a half years. His partner, Titan, is the second K9 to join him in on the job.
"We retired my first one about a year and a half ago, that was K9 Sam,” said Cpl. Deville. “During the course of my career we've made several apprehensions both criminal as well as narcotic seizures."
K9 units have a lot of different responsibilities throughout the day. They said the most important is arresting suspects and getting narcotics off the streets.
Recently, both of these officer-K9 duos had success doing just that.
"We were dispatched in reference to a burglary in progress," explained Dep. Johnson.
Near the end of January, Dep. Johnson and K9 Beny began a search for a burglary suspect in the McKeithen Drive area of Alexandria.
"While on the track we ended up proceeding through muddy, swamp bottoms and fences,” said Dep. Johnson. “And it was kind of a struggle for both of us, or a learning experience, let me put it that way."
The two tracked the suspect for more than a mile.
"It impressed me that he was able to keep on that odor to proceed to the subject," said Dep. Johnson.
Finally, Beny found who he was looking for.
"It was in a really thick brush area and we were able to come across the subject that was laying in the wood line,” remembered Dep. Johnson. “And as soon as we indicated that we were present, the suspect threw his hands up said ‘I give up, you have an awesome dog.’"
The suspect was arrested without incident, and the duo had a good reason to celebrate.
"It was such a rush on our first track to actually get the subject that we were looking for," expressed Dep. Johnson.
As for Cpl. Deville and K9 Titan, their big day was earlier in March.
"It was a narcotics bust," said Cpl. Deville.
The two pulled over a vehicle for a bad tail light, but soon noticed something suspicious.
"As I was talking to the driver, I could smell that faint odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle," remembered Cpl. Deville.
Cpl. Deville asked to search the vehicle, but was denied. So he let Titan take a look.
"The dog is sniffing the air around the vehicle, which is free air,” explained Cpl. Deville. “It's not a violation of any fourth amendment right. K9 Titan indicated a narcotic odor coming from the driver side of the vehicle."
Shortly after, the suspect tried to run away on foot. While another officer chased and captured him, Cpl. Deville and Titan found where the suspicious odor was coming from.
"I located approximately nine pounds of suspected marijuana in a compressed brick form,” said Cpl. Deville. “Along with a loaded firearm with one in the chamber. Along with thirty suspected ecstasy pills. And a total of $1,967 in cash."
A big bust, but all in day's work for these two.
"Just another day in the K9 Unit,” said Cpl. Deville. “It's what we do."
Sergeant Steven Orr is the supervisor over the K9s. He's said it's a good feeling to see his team make successful arrests.
"It's awesome,” expressed Sgt. Orr. “One of my older handlers, Cpl. Deville, I can remember the point when I didn't think he knew which was the head and which was the tail of the dog. Dep. Johnson, he's still as excited today as he was in January when this happened. I can see it. And that's a good thing."
But he said it wouldn't be possible without vigorous training. The officers and K9s are required to do a mock tracking every day, no matter the weather. It's a drill where the k9 searches for a hidden item or person.
"That keeps that maintenance training, we call it, up,” explained Sgt. Orr. “So that when we do have to utilize the dog and we have a real hard scenario, water, trees, fences, they're prepared for that."
They also meet up once a week for training on different scenarios, like searching for narcotics or call outs, which is a drill that involves engaging suspects.
They call it realistic training.
"A circumstance that happens during the week, we might try to reenact that circumstance,” said Sgt. Orr. “We try to set it up so we can do the exact same thing again and we can say 'Where could we have done better? Did we make a mistake? What should I have done differently?'”
It’s this training that makes a successful partnership.
"It takes a lot, if you're going to be successful,” said Sgt. Orr. “It takes a lot of training. Constantly, constantly."
But if you ask these handlers, these K9s are more than just a partner.
"He's just another one of the family,” expressed Cpl. Deville. “I still have retired K9 Sam. He stays inside, while K9 Titan stays outside. When we're at home he's outside playing. We'll play Frisbee. We'll play fetch. But when I come out in uniform, he knows it's time to go to work."
It’s all the more the reason these handlers are happy to have their crime fighting K9s.
"He's got the greatest personality and I really enjoy working with him,” expressed Dep. Johnson. “He's my partner, he’s my family, and he's going to be here for me."