TAKING A BITE OUT OF CRIME
By ANDREW MCGINN
The Greene County Sheriff’s Office will soon welcome a new deputy — one born in the Czech Republic who only understands German.
He also goes to the bathroom outside, which is customary.
Then again, Greene County Chief Deputy Jack Williams is perfectly accustomed to working with a partner who does his business outside.
Learning German might be the only tricky part.
His new partner, a young German Shepherd named Leo, is expected to hit the streets and back roads of Greene County on Feb. 1 — making for the fourth in a series of K-9s that have served the local sheriff’s office in its quest to sniff out narcotics.
For Williams, the sheriff’s K-9 handler for nearly a decade, learning enough German to give 14 commands is the least he can do.
In return, he’ll get a partner like no other — four legs aside.
“When the hair stands up on the back of Jack’s neck, the dog also knows that,” Greene County Sheriff Steve Haupert explained.
The two undoubtedly will develop the kind of rapport that would be the envy of any in law enforcement.
But, because of that very thing, Leo’s impending arrival is bittersweet for Williams, 34.
Williams’ partner for the past eight years, a black Lab named Ranger, will be retired from service on Jan. 19 at the ripe old age of 10 — which, in people years, puts Ranger at about 70.
Williams is looking to place Ranger in a good home.
“It’s like giving up a kid,” Williams said, his eyes welling up with tears.
Man’s best friend is a term that applies to most dogs — but a K-9 and his handler arguably have a bond that’s even stronger.
“There’s quite a bit of responsibility that goes into being the K-9 handler,” Haupert said. “You have to be a good dog whisperer.”
“Not everyone can do it,” Williams added. “You’ve got a partner with you 24-7.”
If you’re not the type who wants to bring work home, being a K-9 handler probably isn’t for you.
Williams’ home is Ranger’s home — and soon, it will be Leo’s home, too.
It’s especially challenging to keep a K-9’s professional instincts sharp when you have two kids, ages 10 and 6, as Williams does.
“It’s not a pet dog,” he said. “That’s hard. Everybody becomes attached to it.”
Williams, a 1997 graduate of Jefferson-Scranton High School, gained experience as a K-9 handler during his five years in the Marine Corps as a military police officer.
In his old age, Ranger has developed routine ear infections, which can distract him from his duties.
“He’s always wanting to shake his head,” Williams said.
“I’ll hate getting rid of Ranger,” he added. “But, at the same time, I’ll be getting a new partner.”
That new partner, Leo, age 2, will be able to perform duties above and beyond Ranger’s pay grade.
Ranger is trained only for drug interdiction and the tracking of unarmed people.
Leo also will be able to apprehend armed suspects and, if necessary, protect an officer’s life.
Currently, if Williams got entangled physically with a suspect, Ranger would likely just sit there, head cocked in curiosity.
“He may lunge in and bite someone,” Williams said, “but it may be the wrong person.”
That said, though, Leo also comes with a significantly higher price tag — $10,000 compared to Ranger’s $4,100.
Ranger was actually a rescue dog that was plucked from the streets and then trained for duty by Des Moines-based Midwest K-9.
Leo will come from Midwest K-9 as well.
The Greene County Sheriff’s Office has so far raised $6,000 of Leo’s purchase price, Williams said, which is enough for the local sheriff’s office to assume ownership.
Area residents and organizations have been contributing what they can for a new dog, according to the sheriff’s office.
The office hopes to apply for a grant from the Greene County Community Foundation for the remainder, Williams said.
Williams and Leo will begin training together later this month at the Anamosa State Penitentiary.
Learning commands in German is, in part, so that a suspect can’t mimic Williams’ voice, he said.
Ranger, for his part, has been a valuable deputy, getting an estimated $30,000 in illegal drugs off the streets, Williams said.
“He’s a really good tool,” he said. “When you show up with the dog, 90 percent of the time they’ll just tell you were it’s at.
“The dog’s going to find it anyway.”
The dog’s mere presence also means it’s less likely that a suspect will flee, Williams said.
Ranger has uncovered 18 pounds of marijuana, three ounces of meth and roughly three ounces of cocaine, Williams said.
In addition, the dependable black Lab has found five missing children — two in Greene County and three in Carroll County.
This past spring, Williams and Ranger took part in the high-profile search for two girls who were abducted in Dayton as they walked home from school on May 20.
The search covered 220 square miles of nearby Webster, Boone and Hamilton counties.
One of the girls, age 12, managed to escape.
The body of the other, age 15, eventually was found in the Des Moines River near Boone’s Kate Shelley High Bridge.
“We’ll go wherever we’re needed,” Williams said.
The next time, though, it will be with Leo, not Ranger.
“He’s been an excellent dog for us,” Williams said.