Kent State police form first K-9 unit

In her video, Nicole Septaric introduces the newest officer on the Kent State University Police Department. In her story, Cassie Smith focuses on the implementation of the new K-9 unit and the relationship between the police dog and her partner.

[rpavideo caption = “Nicole Septaric introduces the newest officer on the Kent State University Police Department.”]RPA_05_Septaric_K9unit[/rpavideo]

There’s a new officer on campus

By Cassie Smith

KENT, OHIO — Although she may not be able to make arrests, use a weapon or break up a riot, the newest member of the Kent State University Police Department is an important addition.

Coco, a 2-year-old German Shepherd, is partnered with Officer Anne Spahr and is mainly trained in explosives detection, but also in other areas including tracking, evidence recovery and area searches. Coco is the department’s first canine.

“The safety and security of the university community is always the first and foremost priority of the department,” Officer Spahr said. “A lot of universities have moved toward having bomb dogs. It’s been an initiative that’s been going on for a while.”

The implementation of the K-9 unit is an operational enhancement, much like purchasing a police car or bike, said John Peach, the director of public safety and chief of police.

He said he imagines the initial fees for the unit may wind up being around $30,000. Yearly it will probably cost around $1,200 to $1,500.

“We wanted to pay top dollar for the top dog for the top service, and that’s what we did,” Peach said.

We wanted to pay top dollar for the top dog for the top service, and that’s what we did

Coco came to Kent State from Van Der Haus Gill, a canine training academy in Wapakoneta, Ohio. The dogs there are brought to the academy from Germany where they are bred and prepared specifically for police work.

Because she was not an experienced canine handler, Officer Spahr allowed the academy to choose a dog for her.

“We did want a dog that had a good demeanor and was very social because obviously you don’t want a dog around here that people are going to be afraid of . . . so that’s what we wanted and everything else you can kind of train them to do,” she said.

Spahr and Coco spent six weeks training together at Van Der Haus Gill.  Coco is what is called “passive alert,” meaning if she finds an explosive, she is trained to sit calmly as opposed to clawing, biting or barking at the object.

“You have to be able to read them and know that’s what they’re alerting to,” Spahr said.  “They’re not just sitting down to relax.  It’s kind of a different way she has about her when she does it, so you’re training the dog and you’re training the handler.  You’re training the handler to read the dog.”

Officer Spahr and Coco
Officer Spahr and Coco

Coco was at the top of her training class, which consisted of 11 dogs.

“The other handlers and the people running the canine training course stopped to watch Coco work,” Peach said. “She was that good, so we were really fortunate to get such an efficient dog.”

Officer Spahr and Coco finished their training on Oct. 25. Although she belongs to the department, she lives with Spahr.

“I’ve always been interested in working dogs,” she said. “I’ve always been fascinated by them. I’ve always been fascinated by what they can do and what you can teach them to do.”

Spahr does not mind if people pet Coco when they see her on campus, as long as they ask permission before doing so. The dog also does not take treats or commands from strangers.

“People are excited inside the department and outside the department,” Peach said. “Everybody seems to like a friendly dog, and Coco is not only a friendly dog, but it’s an approachable dog that I think is winning a lot of friends on campus.”