By Michelle Dupler
The police dog watched as Franklin Township Police Officer Matt Kidwell slipped a heavy, padded sleeve over his arm.
The dog, Falco, pulled against its leash, waiting on Officer Joe Mullins’ command. The dog leaped and snapped at its target. After the demonstration, Kidwell peeled off the sleeve. His arm was red from the pressure of Falco’s jaws.
“You can feel the grip, feel the bite,” Kidwell said. “He’s strong. I can only imagine if I didn’t have the sleeve. It would hurt.”
When told to stand down, Falco sat calmly at Mullins’ side and appeared to enjoy a little attention from the crowd.
Falco is the newest addition to Franklin Township’s growing police department. Chief Allen Wheeler launched the township’s first K-9 unit this summer, which will aid with drug crimes. The department raised money to pay for the dog and Mullins’ training through private donations.
Falco came from a police dog school in Germany in July. It’s trained to sniff out seven kinds of drugs, conduct building searches and tackle suspects when necessary.
He’s 65 pounds of lean, muscular Belgian malinois — a breed similar to a German shepherd, which tend to live longer and not share the German shepherd’s health problems.
“Most police departments are going to the Belgian because of the lifespan,” Mullins said.
Falco and Mullins have patrolled together for about a month. The dog helped take 12 grams of heroin and 5 grams of marijuana off the street. The heroin has a street worth of about $1,200, he said.
Mullins went through 10 weeks of training on how to handle a police dog, which included learning 15 commands in German, the only language Falco understands.
He said he was eager to work with a police dog and felt it would be a good fit.
“I just felt I was an aggressive officer. I have a high felony arrest rate. I have a passion for dogs,” he said.
Police dogs typically are paired with one officer and live with the officer to form a bond of trust, accroding to officials.
“He’s my partner,” Mullins said. “He lives at home with me. We go to work together.”
Falco is sociable and enjoys being around other dogs and people. When not being commanded to search or chase a suspect, Falco is easy-going and has no trouble switching between the two modes, according to Mullins.
“When it’s time to go to work, he’s ready to go. When I put on the uniform, he knows it’s time to go to work,” Mullins said.
They patrol in a car specially outfitted for Falco, and pull over five or six times a day so Falco can drink water, get exercise or do whatever the 2 1⁄2-year-old dog needs to do.
Kidwell said other officers in the department welcome Falco’s presence on the police force.
“To help fight crime in the area — he’s a huge asset,” Kidwell said. “We’re fortunate.”
Mullins said he and Falco are available for demonstrations at schools and organizations. Arrangements can be made by calling 279-9411.
He said the township will continue to accept donations to keep the K-9 program funded.
Wheeler told trustees earlier this summer he would end the program if it costs the township money.
Donations can be dropped off to the police department or mailed to 2193 Frank Road, Columbus, OH 43223.