By Dedra Cordle
K-9 Officer Max has not been on the job for long, but his presence is already paying dividends for the Grove City Division of Police.
Recently, he and his human partner, Officer Brian Kitko, were assisting a fellow officer after he had pulled over a suspicious vehicle loitering in the parking lot of a highly trafficked shopping district.
At first, the human officers believed it was just people looking to steal goods from either the department stores or from parked vehicles, but when Max was allowed to do a run around the car, he indicated that there were drugs hidden within.
“It turned out to be a meth bust,” said Interim Police Chief Jeff Pearson. “There is no way we would have found those drugs there without Max.”
The investigation in that case in ongoing, but Pearson hinted there may be a firearms angle to the case as well.
Firearms can pose a serious threat to officers when they come onto a scene, but most can take a little bit of comfort knowing that they are outfitted with protective vests. Kitko had no such peace of mind when it came to his partner.
“He is subjected to the same things we are subjected to,” said Kitko.
Knowing that Max will likely come across dangerous situations during his time on the force, Kitko knew that his partner had to be adequately protected for these unpredictable times.
A ballistics vest is one of the major purchases for a K-9 unit, and it comes with a hefty price tag. Most departments are not allowed to use funds to spend on non-humans so most handlers seek public or private donations to purchase one for their K-9 companions. But before Kitko and the department could do so, they were contacted by Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Mullins who had a ballistic vest he wanted to donate.
Prior to his position with the sheriff’s department, Mullins spent 8 years with the Franklin Township Police Department and was the organizer of their K-9 unit. For over a year, Mullins and his partner, Falco, patrolled the streets together, making drug busts and assisting in hostage situations.
Like all handlers, Mullins worked diligently for his partner on and off the job. He even continued seeking donations for the safety of Falco, raising enough money to get him equipped with a $1,400 ballistic vest and a high-end first aid kit.
But when Mullins decided to leave the Franklin Township Police Department last year, the K-9 unit went with him. Though Falco still works part-time doing security for local events, he had to hang up his special police gear and watch as his once-worn vest got tucked away into the closet.
Tired of seeing it collecting dust, Mullins decided it was time to ask around and see if any local departments had a use for a ballistic vest. As a Grove City resident, he knew the department recently established a K-9 unit and so he called them up and asked if he could donate Falco’s vest. The department, with Kitko leading the charge, quickly accepted.
“This vest provides me with a level of comfort knowing that if we do get into bad situations, Max will be provided adequate protection.”
The 9-pound, Level III vest, will provide Max protection from bullets and knives, as well as protection from blunt force trauma like kicks and punches. The first aid kit, which Mullins also donated, comes equipped with emergency supplies for cuts and sprains, and Narcan in case Max ingests drugs.
“Though he is highly trained, he does have a mind of his own,” said Kitko.
He said that so far, Max has not shown any hesitance in wearing the vest, nor has it diminished his capabilities.
“It is a little big on him right now, but he’s only two-years-old and will continue to grow.”
Kitko said that regardless of the size, he is glad Max will now be able to wear this protective vest when heading into dangerous situations.
“He’s my partner,” Kitko said while looking at Max chomping happily on a Kong. “And I want him to be safe.”