TUESDAY, JUNE 24, 2003
OFFICERS, DOGS BOND ON THE JOB
In the last year, the police dogs and their handlers have handled more than 200 calls, searching for drugs and tracking suspects who have fled crime scenes.
BY SHAY WESSOL
THE ROANOKE TIMES
Officer Keith Weaver firmly believes he has the best assignment at the Virginia Tech Police Department. Any dog lover would probably agree. Weaver comes to work each day with the department's German shepherd, Hokie, at his side. "It's an awesome experience," Weaver said. "I've got the best job in the department, and I tell them every day that I wouldn't trade this job for anything."
Weaver and Radford officer Chris Caldwell graduated last spring from the Roanoke City Police Academy's 12-week police dog training program. In the last year, the dogs and their handlers have developed unmistakable bonds and have handled more than 200 calls throughout the New River Valley, searching for drugs and tracking suspects who have fled crime scenes.
"It doesn't seem like we've been out of the academy a year," Caldwell said. In that year, Caldwell has gotten used to riding around with Dusty, his four-legged partner. He now has someone to listen to him talk as they ride around the city. And Dusty, a German shepherd, is always watching Caldwell's back.
"As soon as I get his collar off the kennel and put it on him, he darts to the car, ready to go to work," Caldwell said. "On days when I have court or something else going on, it's weird to have to go to work without him."
Having Dusty on patrol has allowed Radford's officers to search more cars for drug violations and to search buildings with alarms sounding more safely, said Lt. Cmdr. Scott Schwarzer. "The dog has brought us additional support in searching for narcotics that might not otherwise be found," Schwarzer said. "He allows us to find it a little easier and a little quicker."
The same holds true at Virginia Tech, which was the first university police department in the state to bring a police dog on board, Chief Debra Duncan said. Both dogs are available to surrounding police departments, if they're needed.
"We're absolutely pleased with Hokie," Duncan said. "The past year has been a learning experience for the police department as well as for the university, since this is the first dog we've had here. We've had to learn how to deal with the dog and to learn what types of situations to use the dog and when to not to use the dog."
Students and staff also had to get used to having a police dog on campus. "I think it was just a matter of getting over the initial mind-set that the dog was there to attack people," Duncan said.
During the past year, Hokie won over many skeptics. Weaver said he's been able to meet dozens of students who come up to him just to pet Hokie. Those students often stay in touch with Weaver and deliver goodies for his dog.
"I come in here some days and there's dog biscuits they've left for him with the dispatchers," Weaver said. "It's an awesome experience."