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©2018 by The Starfish Assignment. 

K9 Ride Along

July 7, 2019

 

Our primary mission is to work with law enforcement officers to help members of the communities they serve. Our secondary mission is to enhance the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. One way we do that is to try to educate the public about law enforcement, and Columbus Division of Police has been very open with allowing us to do ride alongs and then provide blog updates about those ride alongs. Recently our President, Nicole Banks, was invited to do a ride along with Columbus K9 officer David Jones and his partner, Ayko, which we’ve posted below in its entirety.

 

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I will admit I was scared to go on this ride along. I’ve done ride alongs in South Linden, the Hilltop, and South Side. I’ve gone along with IN/TAC—the drug unit that serves the no-knock search warrants—when they did just that on a drug dealer’s house, firing knee knockers into the windows and ripping the door off its hinges since it was barricaded. I was never afraid to go on any of those ride alongs. But put a five-year-old, highly trained, incredibly cute, sharp-toothed, Belgian Malinois in a vehicle with me, and I will admit to a large degree of apprehension. Hey, I’ve seen videos of what they can do. Plus, I had one of my former Marine Corps cop friends tell me not to make any sudden movements because that could startle the K9 and he might be liable to bite me.

 

For seven hours?!

 

My fears were gone in the first five minutes of meeting Ofc Dave Jones and his partner, Ayko. Ofc Jones is calm and kind. He introduced Ayko to my son, Rohan, and me, and then Ayko promptly assumed an air of indifference towards me that he would carry for the entire shift. Whew!

 

Rohan, who did not get to go on the ride along, had questions—really good ones—which Ofc Jones answered patiently. For example, there’s a big container for water in the back of the vehicle that Ofc Jones fills up every shift. It holds approximately two gallons, and Ayko can drink as much as he wants, whenever he wants. Ofc Jones also carries additional water with him, explaining that heat exhaustion is a handler’s biggest fear. “That’s why our K9’s don’t wear bullet proof vests. It’s actually far more likely that they’ll die from becoming overheated than from being shot.” He went on to explain that when the K9’s engage in lengthy tracking of suspects, they have to be switched out frequently because when they get overheated and start mouth breathing, their sense of smell is compromised and they’re less effective.

 

He also explained to Rohan that one of the most important things he does before he leaves for work is check which direction the wind is blowing that day. When Ayko has to search a vehicle, he will bring him in towards the direction of the wind, so that the smell from the car is carried by the wind. It’s less effort for the K9, who can often smell the vehicle before he’s even close to it.

 

After talking to Rohan, we set off. Ofc Jones explained that, unlike traditional patrol officers, whose duty day starts at a precinct in a roll call, their day starts when they’re marked in on shift via radio. If they live in the city and mark in for duty when they leave their house, that’s when their duty day starts. If they live outside the city, they mark in as soon as they reach the city limits.

 

The K9 units also differ from traditional patrol units in that they’re not tasked with patrolling specific areas of the city. They can, and do, go anywhere. However, that brings with it its own sets of challenges. First, the city is broken up into different radio zones. So, Ofc Jones has to pay attention to when the radio zone changes, and adjust his radio accordingly. Second, he has to monitor multiple radios in case he’s on the border between zones, which happens frequently, because he wants to be of greatest service to the patrol officers he assists. Third, although he can travel anywhere in the city, he tries to stay centrally located unless his services are specifically called for in one of the outlying areas. The reason for this is that the courts have upheld the standard that a traffic stop cannot be delayed while an officer is waiting for a K9 officer to arrive. The time of the “delay” is not specified, but Ofc Jones and the other on-duty handlers work together to try to minimize that time, report on how long it will be before they can respond, and maintain their presence in different areas of the city.

 

Ofc Jones gave me an overview of his history with CPD. He spent fifteen years patrolling Franklinton (colloquially known as the Bottoms) before moving to the CPD range for seven years. Four years ago, an opportunity to become a K9 officer opened up. His wife agreed to allow him to pursue the option, knowing it was his dream job. Family support is crucial, because having a K9 affects the entire family. Ofc Jones says that he doesn’t get to travel as much as he’d like to, because it’s too had to do with Ayko. If you think about it, you can’t just ask your neighbor to come by and take care of a K9 while you’re gone. Nor would you likely drop them off at a typical pet sitter.

 

Ofc Jones told me a story of a time when his son had a friend over to the house. He’d warned him to have the friend in his room when he came home with Ayko, and the moment they crossed the threshold, Ayko knew there was a stranger in the house and he set about trying to find him. Ofc Jones told his son to bring his friend down to play ball with Ayko so he knew everything was fine with the situation, but one can easily see how, in a less controlled meeting, that could have been scary.

 

I was surprised at how much ongoing training the K9’s go through. I was aware of the weekly formalized training, thanks to Ofc Tony Rogers’s presentation to our Starfish Assignment meeting a few months ago. However, there is almost constant training between the handler and his partner, such as Ofc Jones tossing an object into a field of weeds and Ayko going in and locating it. Yes, Ayko could find your keys if you lost them while you were jogging through a park. Seriously. This isn’t a parlor trick, however. This is an incredibly useful tool: Imagine a foot chase through a neighborhood in which patrol officers are sure a suspect tossed a gun somewhere, but they are unable to locate it. Ayko could come in and find it effortlessly. Of course, Ayko is able to do the same if patrol is unable to locate the suspect himself.

 

As you can see, the abilities of CPD’s K9’s go far beyond sniffing for drugs, but that was what Ofc Jones and Ayko were called to assist with on a call to South Linden. There, patrol officers had pulled over a vehicle. The young men inside had admitted to marijuana use, but the officers wanted to make sure there was nothing beyond that inside the vehicle, and Ayko was all too willing to assist. As Ofc Jones readied to take Ayko from his vehicle he explained that CPD only allows their K9’s to search the outside of vehicles due to the dangers presented to them by being inside vehicles, primarily fentanyl.  

 

Ayko did alert on the vehicle, which allowed the Precinct 5 officers to search inside. Ofc Jones rewarded him with a toy, and it was interesting to me that the personalities of the K9’s vary as much as the personalities of their handlers, or indeed as much as patrol officers. Some K9’s want to be rewarded with food, some with toys. Some K9’s enjoy being around people and some less so. Some MUCH less so. Ofc John Kifer’s dog, Carr, was so excited to meet me that I was instantly greeted with kisses.  I’ve already explained Ayko’s indifference to me (which I deeply respected). But, when Ofc Jones took me to see the kennels, I heard an eerie howl. “Is...that a wolf?” I asked, only half joking.

 

Ofc Jones and Ofc Kifer laughed. “No, that’s Elvis. His handler is out of town, so he’s staying here,” Ofc Jones replied. “You can meet him, if you want.”

 

I mean…what could go wrong, right?

 

Ofc Jones opened the door to the kennel room and walked in, “Hi, Elvis.” The howling stopped.

 

I popped my head in the door. “Hi, Elvis.” Instantly, a low, terrifying growl filled the room. “Bye, Elvis,” I said hastily, and bopped myself right out of the room, once again grateful for Ayko’s indifference.

 

On a more serious note, later in the day, Ofc Jones again responded to a call in South Linden, this time for shots fired. We pulled into a neighborhood, along with multiple other police units, and suddenly, there was the distinctive sound of shots being fired rapidly. My jaw fell open and I glanced at Ofc Jones, who seemed similarly surprised.

 

“Oh my,” he said, “They’re still firing.”

 

He, however, recovered much quicker than I did. I had to will myself to close my mouth, out of fear that he, or one of the other officers would deem me unworthy of being on the ride along and send me home. Genuinely, I was completely and utterly shocked that, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, in a neighborhood where people were out mowing their grass, kids were playing in their yards, and where at seemingly every corner we rounded, there was a patrol car, SOMEONE WAS FIRING A WEAPON. What also shocked me is that, even though someone was firing a weapon, people were still out mowing their grass and kids were still playing in their yards. Unfortunately, it is not an entirely unusual occurrence in this area of the city.

 

As the patrol officers scoured the neighborhood for the shooting scene and the shooter, Ofc Jones tried to help them with their calls that were backing up, including one that was a building alarm. He and Ayko can clear a building in minutes, while it would take human officers much longer.

 

What you must know about Ofc Jones and Ayko is that if Ofc Jones is in the vehicle, Ayko is quiet and serene. If we’re driving, Ayko is probably laying down, catching some sleep. But if Ofc Jones leaves the vehicle, Ayko goes into beast mode, which is great. His barking alerts people that there’s a K9 partner at the ready—and Ofc Jones has the ability to release Ayko at any time if he needs to. As a former military police officer, I love the fact that Ayko acts a protector to Ofc Jones.

 

Therefore, when Ofc Jones got to the scene of the tripped alarm, saw someone at the loading dock, and asked me to wait in the car, I truly did not mind that Ayko was just behind my ear, barking at full volume. He was protecting Ofc Jones, and I appreciate anything and anyone that keeps our police officers safer. So, Ayko and I sat there together, watching the conversation between Ofc Jones and the man unfold. We saw the man hold up his employee ID. We saw him smile. We saw him present some paperwork. We saw the man gesture and make apologetic motions. We saw him and Ofc Jones talk and laugh.

 

And Ayko fell silent.

 

Ayko could read the body language of his partner and watch the progression of the scene just the same as I could. He was still there if his partner needed him; I have no doubt that barking would have started up again instantly if the scene took a turn. But it was clearly a pleasant encounter, and Ayko could see that as easily as I could. He continued to watch from his vantage point between the seats, but he didn’t vocalize. It was truly amazing to witness.

 

As always, I am very thankful to Columbus Division of Police for allowing me to learn from their officers. Special thanks to Ofc Tony Rogers for arranging my ride along with Ofc Dave Jones. Ofc Jones, thank you for being so generous with your time and such a gracious host. Please give Ayko my deepest thanks for not treating me the same way he treated Ofc Casuccio.  ~Nicole Banks

 

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