Woodbury's top K-9 to demonstrate skills at Expo
Jason Posel remembers how, as a youngster growing up in St. Paul, he was introduced to a K-9 police officer and his dog.
"Maybe that planted the seed," he said.
Fast-forward to adulthood, where Posel is the Woodbury Public Safety Department's senior K-9 officer - one of three now serving on the force. He and his dog Niko patrol Woodbury's streets where, they work drug cases, track missing persons and perform apprehensions.
On April 6, Posel will demonstrate Niko's unique talents at the Woodbury Community Expo.
"We put a lot of emphasis on getting out and showing the general public what we're out there doing," he said
It's good, Posel said, for people to get an up-close look at the police dogs to see for themselves that they're not attack animals.
"We basically have them for their noses," he said.
Expo-goers will get a chance to see a K-9's nose go to work at the event. Posel said obedience drills and a simulated drug sniff will be performed at the Expo. If space allows, he said he will demonstrate Niko's apprehension skills, where the dog clamps down on to an officer wearing a padded sleeve.
This year marks Posel's first time demonstrating at the Expo. In prior years, Expo attendees got to see Woodbury police officer Jeff Gottstein and his K-9 partner, Levi.
Expo attendees just might get a sneak peek at the department's two new police dogs, which recently began training in St. Paul, if plans come together.
"They're still pretty raw," he said of the new dogs - Nova, handled by officer Tom Ehrenberg, and Bosco, handled by officer Brian Cline.
The officers earned their way into the K-9 unit by demonstrating a commitment to the program. Both have cut their teeth by having police dogs sniff them out of boxes and attack the pads on their arms.
"Tom and Brian's commitment ... is the reason why they're the two out there working in St. Paul right now with the dogs," Posel said.
Posel's K-9 partner is 7-year-old Niko, a Belgian malinois. Together, they have received numerous awards at K-9 competitions, including a first-place award for narcotics searching, two years running. Niko has also received perfect scores in the last two years for obedience and suspect searching.
Getting a police dog where it needs to be isn't a matter of one-and-done training, Posel explained.
"It's a pretty methodical process," he said.
He likened the process to a physical fitness regimen. You don't just go to the gym once, work out hard, and get to where you want to be. Instead, Posel said training a K-9 is an ongoing process that requires commitment.
"You need to piece it together," he said. "It's all part of a building process."
Posel said he's learned the proof is in the pudding.
"There's a saying ... you ultimately get the dog you deserve," he said.
Posel said he was initially drawn to the K-9 position by the challenge. What he didn't see coming was the involvement level.
"It's definitely not a perfectionist's career choice," he said.
What has kept him moored to the position in his 12 years as a K-9 cop has been the motivational work he's performed with the dogs, Posel said.
Before Niko, he handled the K-9 Shadow, who has since died.
Niko has proved to be successful not just in competitions, but out on the street. Posel said the dog recently keyed on a backpack in a vehicle's trunk during a traffic stop, where the driver was suspected of drug activity.
Police obtained a warrant to search the backpack, which contained 85 grams of marijuana.
In another recent incident, Niko was called out to assist officers after a motorist took off running from his vehicle. Niko found the suspect hiding behind a shed.
"It saved us a lot of time and energy," Posel said.