His name is Luke. He was born in Holland and moved to Michigan a few years ago. And he is one of the most important members of the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department (LCSD). He is currently the K-9 Officer on the LCSD K-9 Team.
First established in 1979, the K-9 Unit began with a German shepherd named K-9 Pepsi and his handler, Deputy Steve Wireman. Today, in 2008, Deputy Jeff Krysan is K-9 Luke’s partner – the lone team in the LCSD K-9 Unit.
The K-9 Unit is one of the busiest and has many different responsibilities within the Sheriff’s Department.
“Some of my duties [include] narcotics searches of vehicles, tracking or searching for fleeing suspects from robberies or burglaries, of people fleeing from officers on foot for other reasons,” Krysan said. “We also search for lost children or endangered elderly persons, like Alzheimer’s patients who wander from a residence.”
Krysan adds that Luke is also trained for use on the LCSD Tactical Team.
Another part of being a K-9 team is doing the occasional school visit to teach local children about the dogs and how they help the community.
“I don’t do too many school visits because I work the night shift – 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. – but we have a new team starting next month that will do more of that,” Krysan said. “But you do have to be careful with those. These dogs aren’t pets.”
Dawn Somers, a science teacher at Howell High School, was fortunate enough to see a demonstration by a police dog when she taught the ‘Criminalistics’ class a few years ago.
“Their sense of smell is incredible,” she said “We were able to observe how the dogs were able to sniff out a small test sample – just a few milliliters [of drugs] – after being hidden when the dog was out of the room.”
She added that the students in her class were very impressed by the work that the dog – whose name was Ashley – was able to carry out.
“Mainly the students wanted to know how long it took to train the dog, what the training consists of, or does the officer get to keep the dog as a pet,” she said.
Police dogs do live at home with their handlers, but Krysan said that he uses a somewhat hands off approach to Luke’s home life.
“Luke is very sociable and happy at home, but he is kept in the basement in a large, 15 ft. by 15 ft. kennel,” he said. “It’s a matter of personal preference, but I believe a police dog works better if they are not a family pet.”
Krysan adds that he really feels like Luke is his best friend, but he said that he has the entire LCSD counting on Luke, and until he retires, Luke needs to be focused on his job.
According to Krysan, training for dogs like Luke is a long and rigorous process. But before handlers can begin training, they have to find the right dog for the job.
“Most police dog candidates are from Europe,” Krysan said. “The Europeans are very knowledgeable in regards to using canines for police and military work and they breed dogs [specifically for such tasks].”
Candidates for police dogs must love to chase things – whether it be their prey or even a ball – because most of the training they receive is based on the “chase”. During their training, the dogs’ inherent drive to chase the ball or the prey gets morphed into a drive to hunt for humans, explosives, narcotics, or other attributes.
Once the dog has gone through the initial training and imported from Europe, the handler joins them for five to eight weeks of basic training at a police dog academy.
Krysan adds that K-9 teams train continuously throughout their career.
Although Luke is trained in many different areas, Krysan said that his favorite job is to “hunt the man”.
“Each police dog has something that they seem to excel in and searching and tracking are Luke’s favorites.”
Police dogs are not an inexpensive entity for a Sheriff’s or Police Department.
“Dogs cost between $6000 and $15,000, plus equipment, food, and training,” Krysan said.
He believes that the LCSD K-9 Unit’s annual budget is around $10,000, plus any medical bills that may arise.
“I think the dogs are vital to investigation,” said Somers. “My understanding is they are able to detect what some of the most sophisticated of equipment cannot. In addition, the dogs can be trained to assist in many areas of law enforcement including arson, drug identification and search and rescue.”
Krysan became a police officer about 14 years ago and worked for the Northville Township Police Department for eight years before transferring to the LCSD about six years ago. He has been a K-9 Handler for nearly ten of those years.
“I work with the dogs because I am an animal lover at heart and they are really the best partner a cop can have,” he said.
Krysan’s first K-9 partner was a German Shepherd named Sanco. Sanco worked with Krysan for seven years before retiring in 2006. Sanco still lives with Krysan, Luke, and the rest of his family.
“These dogs are tools used to protect the citizens and officers, although it is all a game to the dogs,” Krysan finished. “Some people might not agree with putting an animal in harm’s way, but any K-9 handler will tell you that they love their dogs like family. The photo of Luke shows how I really feel about him: best friend.”