Chippewa Falls’ newest police officer has high energy and a desire to work hard.
He’s also a 1 year old and can also sniff out drugs and missing persons better than any other officer in the Chippewa Falls Police Department through his powerfully trained — and innately skilled — nose.
Leo, the department’s first K9, is currently undergoing training and will join his handler, 9-year-CFPD-officer, Master Patrol Officer Stephen McMahon, sometime in the future.
Logistics and a timeline have yet to be hammered out.
The duo met a week ago, and based on his first encounter with the pup, McMahon said Leo has an appetite for work.
“He’s very energetic, seems very eager and has a drive to him,” McMahon said. “The biggest thing is going to be keeping that drive up, and he definitely seems like he wants to work.”
McMahon will eventually join Leo for training, and once the new team is trained, they will hit the Chippewa Falls streets in regularly scheduled shifts.
As a new handler, McMahon has also been in contact with local and statewide agencies with K9 units, developing skills and learning more about his role. The networking is also creating connections that could benefit the various agencies in future emergency situations, McMahon said.
McMahon’s position and the K9 department will be overseen by Sgt. Ryan Douglas, who has been with the department for 17 years this month.
After relying on the original Chippewa County law enforcement K9 — Lake Hallie Police Department’s Kita and her handler, Sgt. Dan Sokup — and the newest additions to the county’s K9 line-up, Douglas is encouraged by what having their own K9 could mean for the Chippewa Falls Police Department.
For example, Douglas said, it will benefit the department to have in-house assistance in locating missing persons or those that leave care, nursing or other home facilities in the Chippewa Falls area, and not having to contact other departments for K9 availability.
“We can count on having them help us if they’re available, and they’re close,” Douglas said. “Having a designated dog to us, you know, to outsource when we can… He works here, and his first line of duty is going to be here as far as I’m concerned, but we also want to make sure that we were able to help the other departments as we’ve been helped a lot. That’s just how the other departments are around here.”
Both officers have done work with the drug unit, and are also encouraged by the prospect of having Leo to sniff out drugs or paraphernalia at traffic stops.
Catching dealers who are pushing the drugs will be beneficial to the department and city, McMahon said, but for others who are stopped or caught with the drugs, having a K9 to catch those substances faster could mean a matter of life or death for those addicted.
“If this dog’s able to indicate on a vehicle or we’re able to locate these drugs beforehand, before this person starts getting brought down even further into the addiction, maybe now we can help them out and get them into the different programs we have in Chippewa County — before their life starts spiraling into the toilet,” McMahon said. “That’s the path it’s going to go.”
Despite his keen sense of smell, it’s Leo’s obvious canine characteristics — big ears, soft eyes and animal magnetism — that Douglas anticipates have a visual impact on the community. McMahon added that the real test of value will come from Leo’s chops, especially given the community response to fundraising.
The department began fundraising for a K9 in the late summer of 2017, setting a goal of $84,000. It surpassed its goal, hitting $100,000 in January 2018.
Funds from donations will go toward purchasing and outfitting a new squad car for Leo and McMahon, care for Leo and other equipment purchases.
Low staffing stalled the project after fundraising was finished, but as Leo’s presence with the department moves forward, both McMahon and Douglas are hopeful that every shift with the K9 will assure the community that their money has been well spent.
“There might be that one fantastic drug bust or that one fantastic find on a lost person or child or something like that. Those are going to be publicized,” Douglas said. “It’s a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff that doesn’t, but you know the dog’s still doing its job.”