Canine crimefighters

4/4/2014

The moment Garden City Senior Master Patrol Officer Scott Ptacek said "find," his K-9 partner, "Flex," darted across the room, sniffing the area for stashed away drugs.

The moment Garden City Senior Master Patrol Officer Scott Ptacek said "find," his K-9 partner, "Flex," darted across the room, sniffing the area for stashed away drugs.

It took no time at all for Flex to find them, and when he did, Ptacek said, "that's a good 'fuss' (pronounced foos, meaning heel in German) as he walked toward his canine partner to congratulate him. Flex then became energetic and overjoyed, jumping into the chest of Ptacek as they playfully wrestled with the training aid that was positioned near the drugs.

Ptacek then swiftly said "af," to calm Flex down as he sat beside his partner and prepared for the next round of drug training.

"He's got an on-off switch," Ptacek said. "You give him the right commands, he'll do his job and do it well."

Flex, a 75-pound, black-coated Belgian Malinois, is trained as a dual-purpose dog, adept in both suspect apprehension and drug detection. He came from Holland, so his commands are in Dutch, English and German.

"The only time a K-9 dog is allowed to break a command is if the odor of drugs is present or to protect the handler, otherwise they have to obey every command," Ptacek said.

Ptacek has been with the Garden City Police Department for 10 years, and a police dog handler since 2004 K-9 instructor since 2006. While at Bethany College, he rode around with a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper for a month, who also had a dog. It was a month-long experience to learn more about the K-9 program.

Ptacek knew becoming a K-9 officer was something he always wanted to do.

"He goes everywhere with me. He's my partner — home or work, he's there," Ptacek said.

Flex and Ptacek have been partners since 2009. Usually, the department would bring in K-9 dogs around 2 years old, but Ptacek got Flex at 15 months old and went through a 10-week training program.

In the program, the dogs learn all commands, obedience and most are "green" which means they have no K-9 training experience. They determine what the drugs odors are, officers get the drugs imprinted on the dog, teach them how to search for drugs, how to indicate what specific drugs, Ptacek said.

"A lot of people think they can throw out (proofs) human food, dog food, plastic, tape, coffee grinds, and the stuff you see on T.V. shows, to throw the dog off. We work on that so the dog knows this is drug odor and not anything else," he said.

They also work off of ground disturbance principle. If a person steps on grass or any type of ground, it creates odor. When the person's weight hits the object, odor comes up from the area, and that's what the dog is smelling, Ptacek said.

Ptacek has free roam of the city, and having a K-9 partner makes that an advantage because he is able to focus on drug houses and any drug instances.

"I enjoy regular calls, but I like this the most. Taking drugs off the street is my main goal. Having Flex with me makes that possible," Ptacek.

The dogs are trained to locate four different types of drugs: cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and heroine.

Last Saturday morning at the Police Shop, near the Finney County Fairgrounds, along with Officer Bryan Flohr and his K-9 partner, "Rex," the two officers set up a mock training scenario, stashing different drugs in various locations throughout the building. Both Flex and Rex — also Belgian Malinois — took turns successfully finding the drugs as they were hidden in lockers, fuel tanks of vehicles and stuffed between boxes and crates. The ability to locate drugs in vehicles and buildings, as well as apprehending suspects in any type of environment or in any weather, are valuable tools in court.

While the K-9 units are working dogs, Ptacek said he regularly performs demos at schools.

"All the younger kids love seeing the dog and seeing how they work when we do one of our demos. The dogs love it, too. They're like big kids sometimes and want to play," he said.

While some police dogs are trained to be less social, Ptacek wanted Flex to be sociable around people so he can help to create a better perception for people around him.

The public may view K-9 units as just dogs and not an officer, but law enforcement officers disagree.

"You get attached to the dog when you're working the streets and doing street searches," said Patrol Sgt. Kevin Lampe, who has been with the Finney County Sheriff's Office since 1991. "We literally trust our lives to our dogs. Through the training, watching them through the searches, they keep us safe and keep the public safe. We have a close attachment to them."

Lampe, who has been a K-9 officer for 18 years and is working with his third dog, a 90-pound, long-haired German Shepherd, "Axel," said there's an advantage to having a K-9 on patrol. Sometimes people don't understand the presence of police.

"When you get 90-pounds of hair and teeth on the end of the lead, that usually tends to get some people's attention. When you see a K-9 officer arrive on the scene, the party is over. ..." Lampe said.

Mariano Muniz, a sheriff's deputy who has been with the office since 1998, has been a K-9 officer for a short time and has a black, 60-pound German Shepherd named "Dino."

"Everyday is something new," Muniz said. "Dino is learning as well as I am. We get more efficient by training. They live with us 24/7. When we go home, they come home with us."

Lampe's first dog was a female, "Dena," and then he had a male named "Renny."

"Renny was a great police dog, but he was just a little grumpier," Lampe said as he laughed. "Axel is more happy-go-lucky and friendly. We have no problems taking him to schools and let people pet him. But when it's time to work, it's time to work."

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