A decade after the Jefferson City Police Department started its K9 program, department officials said it continues to be an invaluable tool.
Last month, the department welcomed Drax, a German shepherd born in Hungary, to the force. He replaced K9 Buzz, who retired after more than eight years of service.
The department also has K9 Chopper, another German shepherd, who was been with the department for a year and a half.
The average narcotics dog can work five to eight years. A dog used for patrol — where physical confrontations are more frequent and injuries more common — typically can work about five years.
Just like Buzz and Chopper, JCPD selected Drax from the Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania. He was taken to an approved training center in Boone County for his initial training of nearly 10 weeks.
He was paired with Officer Paul Gash, who had worked with Buzz, and the two continued training involving basic commands, name recognition and simple obedience. They later worked on suspect apprehension, handler protection, tracking/lost persons and narcotic detection.
JCPD spokesman Lt. David Williams noted Drax played a critical role in a Jan. 21 incident.
JCPD officers were involved in a pursuit that ended in the 200 block of Dawson Street, and the driver fled from the vehicle. Officers found the driver lying against the side of a home, but he failed to follow their commands. Drax was deployed and eventually helped officers take the suspect into custody. The suspect was treated for a bite to his ankle.
Drax is following in the footsteps of Buzz, who on his second day of duty helped make felony drug finds. During his service, Buzz recovered multiple pounds of methamphetamine and marijuana and helped with numerous heroin and cocaine seizures, Williams said. Buzz was also responsible for the recovery of thousands of dollars of currency. He was deployed approximately 650 times during his career, including 50 successful tracks, and he has been entered into the North American Police Work Dog Association honor roll.
Since his retirement, Buzz has been adopted by another JCPD staff member.
The department was able to start the K9 program in the early 2000s thanks to funds set aside in a round of the city's capital improvements sales tax, along with donations from the community. Now, Williams said, the funds for the K9 program are in the Police Department's budget, which is currently around $16,000, and private donations continue to help.
"The money pays for two dogs and two officers, and more equipment has to be bought for the cars to transport the dogs," Williams said. "They have alarms to notify the handlers if the vehicle is too hot or cold for the dog, and if the handler is away from the vehicle, they have the ability to allow the handler to open doors automatically to let the dog out."