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Column

Valuable lessons on K9 officers and traffic stops

Week 8 of Citizens Police Academy

K9 Officer Mackenzie Kruse of the Bureau County Sheriff's Office introduces his police dog, Palu, to the Citizens Police Academy class on Wednesday.
K9 Officer Mackenzie Kruse of the Bureau County Sheriff's Office introduces his police dog, Palu, to the Citizens Police Academy class on Wednesday.

The area K9 officers let the dogs out during Week 8 of Princeton’s Citizens Police Academy.

Wednesday’s class showcased our area police dogs and the skillful work they do. We were introduced to four K9 officers, two from Princeton Police Department, one from Bureau County Sheriff’s Office and the fourth from Illinois State Police District 17.

Their police dogs are used for a variety of cases. They can help track missing people, search for heroin, cannabis, cocaine or methamphetamine, and be used to find leads on cases involving things like burglary, kidnapping, fleeing, etc.

An interesting note I took down from Wednesday’s class is that these dogs are not pets. They are working dogs and are trained to constantly be on the hunt for scents. The dogs can turn off the “on duty” ability when they’re at home with their handlers at night, but for the most part, as soon as they’re out the door and in the car, they’re on alert and ready to work.

The two dogs that work for Prince­ton Police are handled by officers Erik Sorenson and Joel Drozda. Deputy Mackenzie Kruse is the K9 handler for the Bureau County Sheriff’s Office, and Trooper Sammy Kromm is a handler for Illinois State Police District 17.

Each of the officers told a little bit about their K9, and the training they had to receive to become a handler.

What was most eye-opening for me about this presentation is just how expensive K9s can be for a department. The officers on Wednesday said it can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 for the dog and needed training.

Despite the extraordinary price tag, it seems having a K9 on staff is a very valuable asset for a department. Each handler would tell you it was worth every dollar of the investment with the amount of work each K9 can do. It was pretty neat to hear about some of the huge drug busts Kromm’s K9 has made on Interstate 80 alone.

Each of the officers took turns participating in a mock search of cannabis so that the class could see the dogs in action. The K9s were brought in one at a time, and I swear, it only took seconds for them to sniff out the hidden drugs. It was pretty impressive.

The K9s were very well-behaved and enjoyed being petted by people in the class, but they all had an intimidating factor about them. The size of the K9 who works on Interstate 80 is pretty overwhelming. Kromm said he weighs more than 100 pounds. Anybody would be crazy to try to outrun or outsmart that dog, or any K9 dog, for that matter.

The second part of Wednesday’s class focused on traffic stops. Prince­ton Police Officer Rob Jensen set up a mock traffic stop in the parking lot of the police station. He showed us how stops are conducted and what officers do to ensure the stop is handled in the safest manner possible. He showed us the difference between a regular traffic stop for a traffic violation versus a high-risk traffic stop, which is conducted on crime suspects.

While a lot of people have experienced being pulled over (myself included), it was really interesting to see a traffic stop from a cop’s point of view. Many might believe officers enjoy pulling people over, but that wasn’t exactly the tone Jensen had during his instruction. Traffic stops are incredibly dangerous, and if you’ve been keeping up on the news headlines lately, you know they can be deadly for police officers.

Not only do police officers worry about safety on a busy road, but they’re walking up to vehicles they have no idea who or what is inside. There’s a big reason they try to make these stops as uncomfortable as possible for their own protection and the protection of others.

Note to readers: Goldie Rapp is a senior staff writer for the Bureau County Republican. She can be reached at grapp@bcrnews.com or follow her on Twitter @bcr_grapp.

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