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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

New Four-legged Officer Proves His Mettle in Northern Kentucky

Fort Thomas Police Detective Mike Rowland and Rexo are assigned to the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force

It’s no secret. Northern Kentucky has a drug problem.

It’s not unique to the area or our state, but it is taking a high toll on our community. Lawmakers, healthcare professionals and law enforcement are employing every strategy and every tool at their disposal to combat what many are calling an epidemic.

One strategy is to stop the drugs from entering our community in the first place. Highly and specially trained officers are assigned to this duty.

One special new officer has been deployed to our area, and at a recent Fort Thomas City Council meeting, the community had the opportunity to meet him.

Rexo is trained to detect and identify drugs in all situations and terrains.

Meet Rexo
Rexo is a canine police officer working with his partner, Fort Thomas Police Detective Mike Rowland. Both are assigned to the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force. They work with the strike force throughout Northern Kentucky, as well as Cincinnati.

Since Rexo and Rowland have been working together over the past fall, they have had more than 20 deployments. Rowland says Rexo has helped in the seizure of 20 pounds of marijuana, a pallet of meth amphetamines, a half ounce of cocaine and other drugs worth $17,000.

Christopher Conners is the director of the strike force, and he explained the process of obtaining a trained canine officer, one that takes more than a year of intensive training and costs upwards of $10,000.

Conners began his comments with a thank you to the Fort Thomas Police Department, council and community for support of the drug task force. He said the force recently lost its canine officer. This led him to seek donations for a new dog.

He praised the Matt Haverkamp Foundation for stepping in and providing the funding necessary to purchase a new dog. The foundation is the legacy of a Cincinnati area K-9 police officer credited for starting a canine program in the suburb of Golf Manor.

"This was no cheap donation by this foundation,” explained Conners. “These dogs come from Belgium where they are hand selected by trainers over there. After a year of vetting, those animals are sold to various kennels in the United States, one of which we have used both times... At that point, once again they are vetted both for health and for the job they are assigned."

Along with this donation comes training and certification for the dog and for those who will work with the dog, he said. After intensive training over several months, Rexo and Detective Rowland earned national certification.

Trained to detect and alert
Rowland introduced Rexo and explained the type of training he received. Rexo is trained in passive alert, he explained. "That means he can detect odors of drugs, including marijuana, heroin, cocaine, meth amphetamine. He will sit or lie down near the source…So at any given time I should be able to look at his ears and down at his nose, and he will point out the drugs."

Passive alert training has grown in popularity in the past decade because it keeps evidence intact and protects against unnecessary damage to surrounding materials.

Rexo is also a single-purpose dog. While some dogs also take on duties such as tracking and chasing down suspects, Rexo’s training is for drug detection only. "He’s not going to chase anybody through the woods, he’s not going to bite anybody. This is what he is trained for," said Rowland.

Why dogs are so good at drug detection
Fort Thomas Police Chief Casey Kilgore explained the key differences that make canine officers so good at what they do.

"A dog can exponentially smell things that humans can’t. Human officers might have a hard time finding drugs in a car if they are packed with something else, or if the seat’s been cut out and put it back in…but Rexo would be able to find that right away," he said.

Dogs, he said, can differentiate smells in ways humans simply cannot. "If you were cooking beef stew in the kitchen, all you’d smell is beef stew, whereas canines can smell potatoes and beef and broth…each separate ingredient."

Keeping dogs safe in this age of Fentanyl and other dangerous drugs also requires special training. Rowland carries with him a special dog-appropriate dose of Narcan to protect his new partner. 

Rowland brought Rexo in to the council meeting to demonstrate his skills. The officer had hidden drugs somewhere in the council chambers. Rexo entered the room and within seconds the dog had stopped near the drugs, sitting down to indicate where they were hidden.

For Rexo, he took the cheers and claps from those present in stride, but it was obvious praise from his partner was the reward he craved. That, and the treat he received.

Chip Shiver of Shiver Security Systems and Sonitrol of Southwest Ohio also helped with funding and support for the new canine officer.

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