Kennewick police get new drug dog

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldJuly 23, 2013 

New KPD drug dog

Kennewick Police K9 Officer Isaac Merkl introduces Bear, a new K9 police dog trained to detect narcotics. Officer Merkl and Bear will be working closely with the Metro Drug Task Force and the Violent Crimes Task Force.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

The Kennewick Police Department's newest officer has a no-nonsense attitude toward drugs.

Bear, a lanky Labrador retriever-mix, knows how to sniff out heroin, cocaine, crack and meth.

But don't ask him to search for marijuana. Washington's new pot law has removed that from police dog training sessions.

Kennewick Chief Ken Hohenberg introduced Bear on Tuesday, saying perhaps the only person in the room who could match the K-9's high energy on the job is his handler, Officer Isaac Merkl.

Bear's lively spirit keeps him lean and friendly, as he jumped up frequently Tuesday onto his hind legs to give Merkl a hug.

"You can tell we hate each other," Merkl joked. But when Bear is on the scent of illegal drugs, there's no messing around.

Merkl, who used to be a detective with the Criminal Apprehension Team, spent seven weeks at the Washington State Patrol's training academy at Shelton, where he met seven drug dogs. He bonded best with Bear.

The dog is trained not to react aggressively to drugs so he won't accidentally ingest any and the contraband won't be damaged.

When Bear is on the prowl, he works diligently to find the drugs, then sits calmly next to the hiding place until officers move in to retrieve it.

The $3,500 needed to buy Bear and to train Merkl came from money and property confiscated from other criminal activity, officials said.

It's already been a wise investment, they said.

"Bear has seven (drug) successes since joining the KPD," Merkl said. "He has one drive -- to find narcotics -- and he won't stop until he does."

Bear and Merkl will work closely with the Tri-Cities Metro Drug Task Force and the Violent Crimes Task Force.

Bear joins veteran tactical dog Axel on the force. The German shepherd is mainly used for chasing down fleeing criminals. His handler is Officer Brad Kohn.

Kohn also is a master dog trainer. Axel is the third German shepherd he's trained.

Axel has contributed his lightning speed and keen nose to the Kennewick force for about three and half years, and during that time only has had to take down two criminals by force, Kohn said.

"Nine times out of 10 all we need to do is tell someone if they don't stop we'll let the dog loose," Kohn said. "That usually gets people to stop running."

Hohenberg said, "Since we started the canine unit in 1987, the community has been very supportive. Very little taxpayer money is ever used for this purpose."

w Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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