Four-legged officer in training
Superior’s newest police officer has black hair, brown eyes and hails from Slovakia. He enjoys eating, long walks and his Kong toy. The new recruit is also full of curiosity. Friday in the Superior Police Department conference room, he tipped over a garbage can a few times and knocked items off a table with his questing nose.
“He loves to tip over garbage cans,” said Officer Nick Eastman, who has been paired with the department’s latest canine. “Just these small ones with plastic hanging over like that. I bring him to the squad room, he tips them all over.”
Marik, the department’s new K-9 officer, is a 15-month-old German Shepherd; he and his partner are in the midst of 12 weeks of training in St. Paul, Minn. The pup begins each week with a spring in his step, emitting a high-pitched whine when he is amped up and ready to work. Heading into the weekend, he was a playful publicity hound, mugging for the camera. Eastman appreciates that duality.
“He has that drive that when it’s time to go to work, especially training; he has such a desire to achieve the goal that he’s focused on that until he’s done and then it’s playtime again and back to normal puppy life, which is fun,” Eastman said. “I hope he keeps this demeanor because he’s so good with people, but at the same time, he turns it on and works. I got lucky with the type of dog I got.”
A Superior native, Eastman has been a law enforcement officer for eight years. He started his career in Iron River and was hired by Superior in 2008. Over the last few years, he has served on the other end of the K9 training leash, as decoy.
“That’s where I really observed not only the work ethic that goes into it but the bond and the relationship between the handler and the canine,” Eastman said.
The newest canine has big paws to fill. Superior restarted its K9 program in 2003 with Officer Todd Maas and his partner, Dargo. The German Shepherd excelled in drug detection and was recognized in 2004 for the Narcotics Find of the Year by the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Canine Handlers Association for finding four ounces of methamphetamine and half a pound of marijuana that was very well hidden in a vehicle.
After an on-the-job injury, Dargo left the department in 2006 and Blek, another Slovakian, joined the team.
Blek’s highlight case was the apprehension of Donald Christopher, who was convicted of attempted first-degree murder and received a 19-year prison sentence.
Responding to a stabbing call, Maas saw a man in a bloody shirt running across Catlin Avenue. He stopped the car and ordered the man, Christopher, to get on the ground. Instead, the man advanced on the officer, throwing his knife in Maas’ direction. Maas pulled his back door open, and 82 pounds of canine erupted, heading straight for Christopher. Blek and Maas received the 2009 criminal apprehension of the year award from the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Canine Handlers Association for the incident. Blek was recognized for protecting handler Maas and for preventing a possible deadly force incident.
Blek retired in February and is staying with the Maas family as a pet.
“There is no way to adequately measure the value of a K9 program,” said Superior Deputy Chief Nick Alexander. “These service dogs protect their handlers, detect narcotics, help locate fleeing criminals or lost persons, and in extreme cases, apprehend suspected criminals. Their actions help keep officers safer and can prevent the use of more dangerous levels of force.”
Marik, like his predecessors, will be a dual-purpose dog versed in narcotics detection and apprehension. He is also fitting in well at home with the Eastman family and their two other dogs when not at training.
“It’s not fun being away from the family and stuff, but you know if I look at the end part of it, that’s the exciting part and taking my buddy to work with me every day, that’s what it’s for,” Eastman said. “And down the road if we achieve good things, it will have paid off.”
The Superior Police Department’s K9 program could not be nearly as successful without the generous donations of local business and community members, Alexander said. A new K9 can cost up to $15,000 with initial training. Additional costs can be several thousand dollars more. AMSOIL has been a significant sponsor of local area K9 programs, and owner Al Amatuzio has been a passionate advocate for them. The AMSOIL Northland Law Enforcement K9 Foundation was created to provide a fundraising tool to generate corporate and private funding for K9 needs for the Duluth and Superior police departments, and Douglas and St. Louis County sheriff departments.
Donations received help to offset the costs of K9 dogs such as Blek and Marik.
For more information or to donate, go to http://northlandk9.org or check out the Facebook page, Northland K9 Foundation.