Set foot on MTSU’s campus, and within moments you are very likely to see an MTSU police officer patrolling the area. The dedicated department is an active and instrumental part in making MTSU’s campus as safe as it can be–and their team just gained a new player.
Meet Bobby, the MTPD’s first K9 officer (and, of course, his human handler, Officer Zach Brooker).
Bobby is an almost two-year old German Shepherd/Malinois canine who has been training his entire life for the job of a “dual-purpose” police dog– one who can both track narcotics and apprehend criminals.
“Mainly my job is just ‘the guy on the end of the leash,’” said Brooker. “But his job is a “dual-purpose” dog. So he’s certified in criminal apprehension–which is a last-resort situation– but he’s also trained in tracking, area searches, building searches, articles searches–which is where someone ditches evidence on the side of the road or something–and he’s also trained in narcotics. He’s trained in ecstasy, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, and marijuana, and any derivative of.”
While Bobby’s resume sounds very impressive for such a young dog, there’s one thing he’s still struggling with: not peeing everywhere when he’s very excited to see people off the clock. Needless to say, there’s been a lot of floor cleaning around the department lately.
“There’s….there’s so much pee,” said Officer Patrick Fajardo, MTPD patrol officer and public information officer, sighing good-naturedly as he wiped up the urine trail behind the dog (who was, at this very moment, impersonating a rocket as he smashed into the knees of your author with great enthusiasm and love).
Bobby trained for months to acquire his astute skills, and was then paired with Brooker, who has been part of the MTPD for three years. The two trained together in Florida for six weeks before finally arriving at MTSU.
“It’s a really nice tool to have, from an officer safety stand point,” Brooker said. “It keeps us from having any situations where we could have set a dog on someone instead of a person (but couldn’t). But also, when it comes to drugs, his ability. Like when we’re on traffic stops, we may be able to read how somebody’s acting: maybe they’re on cocaine, or meth, or have an addiction, or whatever the case is. We can usually kind of tell when some of that stuff is going on. But we can’t smell heroin. You can’t walk up to a police officer and say ‘tell me what a pound of heroin smells like,’ but a dog, if they could write it out, could tell you. He know’s what it smells like, he knows what he’s looking for.”
Based on this, Brooker explains, Bobby’s job is a really less of a response to a new need as it is an added safety measure for a need that’s already there.
“It’s a college campus. As much as we would love to say that there’s no drugs on our college campus, (and) since we have a zero tolerance policy so there’s no drugs, the reality is that’s just not the case. You’re going to find it, though typically it’s not hard drugs.”
This week wrapped up Bobby’s first week of being on patrol at MTSU, and he couldn’t be doing better.
“He’s been to some odor calls, (and) he even had a positive identification on an odor call,” Brooker said proudly, looking down at Bobby, who was enjoying gnawing aimlessly at Brooker’s boot with the typical attention span of a puppy. “We’ve had a lot of mutual-aid calls from (surrounding departments)…he’s a heck of a tracker for sure.”
The majority of Murfreesboro’s K9 teams are “single-purpose” dogs: meaning they only either apprehend criminals or track narcotics, not both, making Bobby popular around both the MTPD and city.
“Yeah I’m out here (on calls) being like ‘what can I do to call him? I gotta find something here for Bobby,’” said Fajardo, laughing (to which Bobby stared adoringly at).
Brooker’s advice to students who are unsure on how to interact with Bobby is pretty simple.
“Two things. Number one, don’t be scared of the dog. Most of the time that students have seen him—because we haven’t been here very long—he’s been working, so they’ll see him in work mode which is different than what you see here,” Brooker said, smiling as Bobby rolled himself into a tangle in his own leash. “In work mode, he’s very intense about what he’s doing. Like when you pass by a yard with a dog in it, and the dog is doing something and stops and stares at you. Most people get that spider sense. He kind of puts off that vibe (while working.) But as you can see, he’s super approachable and super sweet, but the biggest thing is to not be scared of him.”
Second bit of advice? “Just ask to pet him! I have absolutely zero issues with people petting the dog and him socializing on campus. I think it’s imperative. It’s super important that MTSU has a social K9–it’s a college campus! So he definitely needs to have that loving playful side. I want him to be good at his job, but I also want him to be super social.”
Brooker does admit that seperating work from play is always something any K9 struggles with.
“It’s hard to make sure that, if you run him in a scenario where’s he’s got to apprehend somebody in training, that he knows he has to apprehend them– not run up to them to get pet and get loved by. But he shows n0 sign of having those issues.”
Indeed, Bobby’s focused work side was quite evident when, in the middle of the interview, he sniffed a particular firearm cleaning box stacked beside him. The box, which according to Brooker had been touched by drug residue after an officer performed traffic stop involving drugs, captured Bobby’s attention immediately, showing how minute traces can be and still be picked up by Bobby’s keen nose.
“Bobby, we know,” Brooker laughed. “We got it. We have the drugs.”
Bobby however, was not convinced that Brooker was taking this as seriously as him (until, that is, he was patted and called a ‘good boy.’ Then the box was alright).
Brooker said that if he could tell the community one thing about K9 teams, it’s that they’re really not as scary as you think.
“Criminal apprehension is just the formal terminology—people use the slang term ‘bite dog’ all the time. He’s not chosen based on aggression, he’s chosen based on being a happy dog. The decision we made to go with a criminal apprehension dog was for the community’s sake. It gives us the ability to talk somebody out of a situation. I think people give criminal apprehension dogs a bad rap.”
“Oh! He’s not a bomb dog!” Brooker added, laughing. “We’ve had a few people ask that. There’s no such thing as a dog who’s a bomb dog and trained in narcotics…because at a traffic stop, how would you know what he’s (signaling) for, a bomb or a drug?”
Brooker and Fajardo are excited about the impact Bobby can have on the community.
“That’s part of it, to know that he is here for the community,” Fajardo said. “He’s here to help us find drugs, get drugs off campus, and he’s here to help us apprehend criminals if it came to that. He’s very good at his job…It’s a great community outreach type of thing.”
(For the reader’s pleasure, the author has included photography outtakes from the interview. Please enjoy.)
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