Four-legged officers put in some training

Among the many men and women who serve at the Marshalltown Police Department are two furry, four-legged members of the team.

Raji, 5, and Jordy, 3, are both German Shepherd-Belgian Malinois mixes, and both loyally serve the community of Marshalltown.

“We’ve had a K-9 Unit here at the police department since 1981,” said Sgt. Melinda Ruopp, former K-9 Unit officer. Between 1998-2014 she worked with two police dogs, and gave insight into what it’s like to work with a four-legged partner.

“They have to be obedient,” she said. “The most important thing with training the dogs is control.”

Raji and Jordy confirmed their control and willingness to do their job during training sessions Thursday, when they worked on narcotics detection and perpetrator apprehension.

“We train the dogs and trainers at a 12-week school,” Ruopp said. “It’s nice, because we’re the one who trains our dog.”

Currently, the department has two K-9 Unit pairs: Lt. Kiel Stevenson works and lives with Raji, while Sgt. Tom Watson is partnered with Jordy.

“They’re trained to see (working) as a big game,” Stevenson said. “They’re extremely social.”

Despite the dogs’ friendly and sociable personalities, they cannot be pet when on-duty, as their concentration needs to be on the task at hand.

“The dogs pretty much become a member of the family,” he said.

Ruopp said the dogs are trained to detect drugs as well as track suspects or perpetrators, and take them down if necessary.

“It’s a lot of pressure, it’s probably more PSI (pounds per square inch of force) that a German Shepherd bite,” she said. “They are trained to get a full-mouth grip with the whole mouth, not just the front teeth like an untrained, angry dog.”

While the bite can cause pain compliance, it isn’t meant to seriously injure the person being taken down.

“They’re trained to hold on and not let go, no matter what,” Ruopp said.

Watson added the dogs are trained to go after the arm, as it will usually slow down a runner.

On Thursday at Riverview Park, Jordy showed off some of his apprehension skills. Stevenson acted as a “perpetrator” in a van, while Watson and Jordy approached. When commanded and released, Jordy sprinted to Stevenson, got a solid grip on his (protected) arm, and dragged him out of the vehicle.

The whole scenario took less than 30 seconds. After the take-down training, Watson performed obedience drills with Raji, who sat, laid down and ran to his partners side on command.

Ruopp said the K-9 Unit has received significant community support through the years.

“The K-9 Unit has pretty much been funded by donations from the city (Marshalltown),” she said. “They’ve funded pretty much every dog this department has had.”

While some taxpayer money does go toward the unit, much of the money in the K-9 budget is from donations by citizens. Ruopp said the unit is doing well, but said donations are certainly welcome at any time.

“These dogs are treated just like police officers,” Ruopp said, adding the community’s support is greatly appreciated.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com