Tuesday, March 13, 2007

tmc news introduces...

Officer Rick Walker & Stuka

Rick Walker grew up in Elyria and knew early on that being a Police Officer is what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. After graduating from Elyria High School in 1985 Walker went into the Military where he served three years in the United States Navy. Upon returning home from the Military Walker quickly began taking Police tests around the area. He said that after coming home he felt that he had a decision to make as far as what direction he was going to take in his life. “Back then you had your big group of friends and with a lot of guys you are teetering on that fence, which side were you going to fall to? A couple of my friends had a lot going for them and they chose the wrong side of the fence and I saw how that devastated not only me but our other core of friends and it kinda pissed me off a little bit to see what drugs could do to a person. I wanted to be a Policeman my entire life, my Grandpa was a fireman and he retired from the city back in 1975. So I was fortunate growing up to be able to see that aspect of it. My whole family wanted me to be a fireman, but like I said I have always wanted to do this job.”

He was hired by the Grafton Police Department 17 years ago and stayed with them for two years before being hired by the Elyria Police Department, that is where he has been serving the public now for the last 15 years. Walker has been a member of the Elyria Police Special Response Team and has also been in the Neighborhood Impact Unit several times. Walker said that he loves working the road because he likes to be there when it’s happening. “A lot of us feed on the confusion, so when you have a big melee or it’s really hitting the fan out there, there’s an adrenaline there that you just don’t get in a lot of other jobs. I still enjoy the chase, I still enjoy running through the back yards.”

Throughout Walkers 15 years with the Department he has lobbied with others to bring Police Dogs back to the force. It has been about 25 years since Elyria as had Police Dogs. So last year when the Department sent out an Email to all Officers asking for anyone interested in becoming a K-9 handler to apply, Walker did.

The process involved interviews not only with Department heads but also with Tim Russell, the K9 trainer from Cleveland. Russell is currently a K9 Officer for the Cleveland Police Department and runs a training center.

Once Walker was chosen he went through a 3 month intensive training program with Russell. During the training Walker brought his family in so they could meet the dog that was chosen for him to see if they would get along. After the training program Walker had to be certified and calls that process one of the most stressful things he has done. The certification process would end and Walker would fail if he and his dog failed any single station. Walker passed but couldn’t have done it without the help and professionalism of a 4 legged Officer named Stuka.

Stuka is a German Sheppard and was named after the World War Two German Dive Bomber, The Stuka Bomber. Stuka is 3 years old and began his training when he was about 18 months old. The training for the dog first starts with obedience training then he would move from there to the training with Tim Russell and then with Walker. To show how selective Russell is with his dogs all you have to do is look at his acceptance rate. For about every 100 dogs he looks at as prospects to join his training program he will choose one.

Walker said that he learned there are different methods when training dogs to do Police work. “There are some dogs that are on electric collars, some on pinch collars and then there are some dogs on rolled leather collars that are just a regular choke collar. The way Tim trains and it sounds kind of corny but his whole philosophy is love. He treats the dogs with love and respect and I’m not saying the guys who use the other methods are bad; it’s just the style that they were trained. After being trained without one I’m much happier with that because, in my opinion, you’ve got a dog that is doing what he is doing for you."

Stuka is considered a dual purpose dog. He is trained in 4 areas of narcotics; he can do cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines. He is also certified in apprehension, area searches, article searches and tracking. The only thing he really doesn’t do is bomb and cadaver.

Stuka lives with Walker, his wife, their two kids and a black lab that the family got shortly before finding out about the K9 program. We asked Walker how the family got along with Stuka. “Well my son just turned 7 last week and he goes out there and plays ball with him, never alone he is always with me. He feeds him and brushes him, my wife is the same. Then there is my daughter, she is a 13 year old teenager so she doesn’t want anything to do with him. She said he is big, hairy and slobbery.”

For now he stays in a heated garage and is on a disciplined sleep schedule and diet. He gets 8 hours of sleep after getting home from work. He is fed 6 cups of dry dog food and a half a can of Alpo a day. He also received two biscuits a day. No table scraps or Burger King for Stuka. Somewhere down the road Stuka might join the family in the home but for now he has his own little wing. During a normal shift while on patrol Walker will make pit stops where he will let Stuka get out of the car and stretch his legs, but the stop isn’t just a matter of stretching legs and taking a break, its continuous training.
“When we take those breaks we are also working on commands and other things. It’s non stop throughout the night.”

We asked Walker about the dog in the car during the summer months where he might have to leave the dog in the car. He has what is called the Hotdog System. “What I have is an automatic door release for my one back door and I have a remote. Say I am out of the car and a fight starts I can hit a button and the back door opens up and he can come up and help me out. It also has a temperature control, the panel is up front with me and it is set at 67 degrees. The high is 88 degrees, so if the temp ever goes above 88 the back windows will automatically drop and it also has an alarm system where it will start beeping. Same as if it gets too cold the windows will go up.”

Walker speaks proudly of calls that Stuka has already been on and performed well. Recently they responded to Bell Ave when a 21 year old male fled from another Officer. Walker and Stuka assisted in stopping the car, then Stuka was on. “We got out of the car and approached the vehicle. Stuka, while on his leash had his paws up on the driver’s side door and his head inside the window. The driver immediately obeyed all commands from the Officers.” Walker said that Stuka performed phenomenally that night.

Another call was when they responded to a neighborhood after shots were fired. Other Officer’s had already set up a perimeter around the house where suspects were believed to be. The concern was would Stuka bark and give away the Officer’s presence. “When we arrived on scene everything was dark and quiet and the Supervisor let everybody know that dog was out of the car so if anyone ran from the house to let Stuka get them. My concern was that we have 10 guys down there moving around in the shadows and the dog would start barking because these guys are moving and then give away that we are there. You just don’t know what is going to happen. So we get out and start working around through the back yards and I put him in a “sit” right next to me and we have guys 10 feet on either side of us and guys across the street. He stayed right by my side, he’d kinda give me a little lovin by leaning up against me and he would look around anytime I would make a move but he never once made a peep. I was like a proud daddy that night.”

After 17 years of being a Police Officer, 15 years with Elyria, is this the best time for you?

“Ah, that’s a tough one. I think with anything it goes in spurts. The first five years I worked here I hated my days off and despised vacations and couldn’t believe I got a paycheck to do it. It was just that much fun the first five years. My wife would tell me, you have no idea how lucky you are to truly love what you are doing.

I think right now is the most trying time, because everything is new and the pressure is on you, on both of us to perform. If the program is going to take off and we are going to get more dogs, it’s based off of what we do.”

I’m guessing that is something that you thrive on…

Yeah. Absolutely.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great looking dog. I was glad to read about the set up in the car related to keeping the dog comfortable. I was also glad to hear officer Walker speak about treating the dog with love and respect. Sounds like Stuka is in very good hands. Nice story.

11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stuka is a "FINE" dog...congrats on the AWESOME addition to the force! Im glad Officer Walker is the handler..with a dog that has high drive you need a partner to match! KUDOS'on your positive story..very nice!
(baby Maverick is a chocolate Lab ;)

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story...does Stuka wear a bullit proof vest? I know they are available for dogs.


3:06 AM  
Blogger EFD Pronesti said...

Great story, maybe you can parlay this into doing a monthly story on someone in the community or safety services.

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an adorable dog. I remember this policeman from about a year ago. The encounter I had with him, although a terrible time for me, he was not only very professional but he was very kind showed a lot of caring towards what I was going through. You could tell that he has a great heart and that is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. Stuka has a great partner and I am sure he will be treated well. I am also glad that the Elyria Police Department is bringing dogs back to the community. I look forward to seeing more. Great story. Sue

1:44 PM  

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