2 K-9 units help sniff out drugs and fight crime at White Earth Reservation
Brixx lies crouched down in the shade of a large tree in the backyard of his home -- his thick, black fur blending in with the darkness of the shade, so that the shimmer of his eyes are the first thing a person would see if they approached. The G...
Brixx lies crouched down in the shade of a large tree in the backyard of his home - his thick, black fur blending in with the darkness of the shade, so that the shimmer of his eyes are the first thing a person would see if they approached. The German Shepherd is large and intimidating in appearance, as he keenly watches everything around him. Mostly, though, he keeps his eyes fixed on the one person he is trained to protect with everything in him - his handler, White Earth Officer Franklin Tibbetts.
“If someone sneaks up behind me, he’s going to know it before I ever will,” said Tibbetts. “He’s kind of my guardian - hopefully it never happens, but I think he’d save my life if it came down to it.”
Tibbetts says he’s certain Brixx would even give his life for him if he had to. The K9’s loyalty, talent and unbiased point of view are an invaluable asset to Tibbetts and the White Earth Police Department.
Brixx is one of two K9’s that the department utilizes in its fight against the ever-raging war on drugs on the White Earth Reservation. Brixx sniffs out drugs like nobody’s business and according to Tibbetts, absolutely loves to hear the one command he just waits for: “Brixx, seek dope.”
“He searches for marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin,” said Tibbetts, who says he may be biased since Brixx is his partner but believes he is very, very good at it. The K9 has the ability to search vehicles and buildings alone or in a more detailed manner with Tibbetts. The four-year-old German Shepherd lives for this kind of thing. Although he has proven himself a good family dog for Tibbets, his wife and five children on his off-time, it’s the job that really does it for him.
“When we go to do narcotics, he becomes very, very happy,” said Tibbetts, who says Brixx starts doing what he calls “the hurricane.”
“He just runs in circles and barks,” said Tibbetts, who purposefully gets him riled up and excited before work.
“I want him to enjoy going to work, so by the time I pop open that squad, boom - he’s in there,” he said. “He gets excited to go find dope because it’s fun to him… it’s like a game.”
Brixx, like many K9’s, was born and bred for this sort of thing in the Czech Republic, where German Shepherd bloodlines are the purest and healthiest. This is important, because a lot of money, time and energy is spent on these dogs, so their viabilities must be top-notch. They are brought to the U.S., given basic training in Colorado and then distributed to police departments around the country. They are assigned handlers or partners, after which time the duos will just spend a couple of months bonding before the training resumes again.
Brixx arrived at the White Earth PD in September of last year, and in February both he and Tibbetts were drug certified together.
“He’s come a long way in obedience since I got him,” said Tibbetts, who says he spends a lot of time off the clock training him as well. He says it’s a lot of work being a K9 Officer, but doesn’t regret it. And for a guy who was attacked by a German Shepherd as a child and is also allergic to dogs, that’s saying a lot.
“Well, he makes me feel safe - he’s very protective of me,” said Tibbetts, who says Brixx “barks like crazy” when somebody approaches the squad car, which has an automatic door popper.
“So heaven forbid, if something happened to where the suspect was getting the best of me, I pop that door, and he knows what to do. There’s no commands for that, but he’s trained to protect me. Our bond is very strong.”
But for however instrumental Brixx is to the White Earth PD cause, his nighttime counterpart, Hagar is even more so.
“He came with the name... Hagar - like Hagar the Horrible,” laughed White Earth Police Officer Jamie Allen, who patrols the streets of the reservation overnight.
Hagar, also a German Shephard out of the Czech Republic, is highly trained and not a dog anybody would want to mess with.
“People will mess with us, but as soon as they hear the dog bark, they generally don’t want anything to do with him,” said Allen. “So he is a factor in getting some compliance - just having his presence there will make people cooperate a little better than just having a lone officer there.”
Hagar isn’t all horrible, though. He and Allen have done a lot of school events and public demonstrations, making him a well-socialized dog who loves a good scratch on the ear like any other dog.
“But if somebody gets angry or boisterous, there is a big change in his demeanor,” said Allen. “He knows to protect me, but if I tell him it’s okay, go say ‘hi’ to those people, then he’s just fine.”
Hagar is also four years old, but he’s got more experience under his collar than Brixx. He came to the White Earth PD three years ago and has been working narcotics ever since.
Allen and Hagar then took it to the next level, graduating from McDonough K9 training school last June, which means he is also now trained in apprehension and tracking. On Monday he goes to get PD1 certified, which will test his agility, skills in apprehension, article search, suspect search and obedience.
Allen says it’s nice to have two K9’s in their department covering the rotations because it eliminates the need for one K9 handler to be called out all times of the day and night. Like Tibbetts, Allen also trains with his partner on his off-time. He says Hagar is a friendly, loveable dog to his family, but is all business when it’s time to go to work.
“He’s got two collars - one he wears all the time and one he wears to work,” said Allen. “When that work collar comes off and he’s home, he becomes happy-go-lucky, but as soon as he sees me put my uniform on and he comes out to the (squad) car, he jumps in, gets that second collar on and he flips that switch. No tongue wagging...he’s more serious.”
Allen says Hagar is a daily benefit to him and to the department, as he has been on countless narcotic searches, domestic disturbances and fights in progress.
“We show up - and even if he doesn’t get out of the car - just having the presence of a dog there can de-escalate the situation,” said Allen. “They don’t always respect the officer, but they always respect the dog.”
And Allen respects him as well, calling Hagar his “best friend” who listens to everything he has to say during those long 11-hour shifts together.
“He doesn’t give me too much advice back, but he knows everything about me, and I know he’ll be there for me,” he said, adding that while he’s incredibly bonded to his partner, he also knows Hagar is a tool for the department.
“So I know if he has to be sent into a hostile situation, I will send him in there - that’s his job,” said Allen, who says Hagar has gone through training where he has had to go in under simulated gunfire, and he’s had no hesitation to go and do his job.
“You have a very strong bond with these dogs, and knowing there could be that time when you know you could have to send him into a situation where he might not come back is your worst fear,” said Allen.
K9’s generally work for around eight to 10 years with a department, provided they stay healthy and able.
Once they have done their duty and are ready to retire, handlers are then given the opportunity to buy the dog from the department to keep as their own, so that they are free to live out their “golden years” with the handlers they love.
Both Allen and Tibbetts say when that day comes, Hagar and Brixx will definitely be going home with them.