Olentangy Valley News

Man's best friend lends police a paw

Donations lead to K-9 unit for Powell police; Axel sniffs out drugs, suspects

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The newest addition to the Powell Police Department ranks is capable of finding drugs and tracking suspects in ways that the other officers can't.

And when he does his job well, his partner gives him time to play with his favorite tennis ball.

Axel, a German shepherd, is the department's first police dog. He joined the force Sept. 10.

Axel's partner, officer Jason Latiolais, said having a K-9 unit "is something I've always wanted to do, and an agency could have a dog for many different reasons -- for example, to deal with some of the narcotics coming into the area and burglaries and thefts."

In just a month on the job, Axel has tracked a missing person, identified drugs in a home and in vehicles, and completed building searches after burglaries.

He is trained to sit down when he detects drugs and bark when he's searching for someone he can't reach, Latiolais said. If he catches a suspect who's on the run, he knows to bite them and hold them until his human peers can catch up and make an arrest.

Latiolais said when an officer suspects someone is in possession of drugs at a home or during a traffic stop, Axel can indicate narcotics are present by sitting down. This gives officers enough cause to lawfully conduct a search, Latiolais said.

Axel also is able to sniff out missing people and crime suspects.

"They can cover a lot more ground than we can," Latiolais said. "If we're doing an area search because maybe someone is hiding in the woods, dogs are able to use their senses to detect human odor, but if (officers) are trying to find the same missing person, we'd need a whole staff to search a large area."

Axel, who is 15 months old, began his training in Slovakia. In June, he came to the United States, where his training continued in Hiram. Latiolais attended a six-week workshop there to become familiar with and train Axel, who's now with the officer around the clock.

After their rounds on third shift end about 6 a.m., Axel and Latiolais head home together. Latiolais has another German shepherd that Axel can relax with, and the police officer's children have been keen on helping the new family member train for his work duties.

"He just has a real high drive and he loves playing with the ball," Latiolais said. "He's also very social and is able to interact with other people and kids, which is a quality we were looking for in a dog."

Axel was purchased and trained with a $12,800 donation from the Powell Citizen Police Academy alumni group. Members who attended the academy solicited donations and held fundraisers for about two years to collect more than $15,000 to add a K-9 unit to the police department.

"When we learned what a dog could do for the community, we thought it'd be a big thing," said academy alumnus Mike Falk. "The budget didn't allow for a dog, so we started raising money and found a lot of civic-minded people who wanted to help out, and about two or three anonymous donors really kicked in and made it happen."

Wyandot Run Elementary School also donated $350 for expenses such as food.

When he's not sniffing out illegal substances and chasing down criminals, Axel will attend community functions and accompany his partner on school visits.

Now that Powell has a K-9 unit, the department is able to offer its services to area police departments such as Delaware, Genoa Township, Hilliard and Dublin, whose dogs have come to Powell's aid in the past.

"Having him is a good thing for everybody," Latiolais said, "because now we have that extra resource available."

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