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Willmar PD K-9s deliver successful year

WILLMAR -- While he might act like a mischievous puppy off-duty, stealing people's mittens and chewing on iPhones, the Willmar Police Department's newest police dog Major has already proven himself as a successful officer.

Erica Dischino / TribuneWillmar Police K-9 Officer Major wants to join the conversation Wednesday with his handler Officer Sam Schaefbauer at the Willmar Police Department.
Erica Dischino / Tribune Willmar Police K-9 Officer Major wants to join the conversation Wednesday with his handler Officer Sam Schaefbauer at the Willmar Police Department.

WILLMAR - While he might act like a mischievous puppy off-duty, stealing people's mittens and chewing on iPhones, the Willmar Police Department's newest police dog Major has already proven himself as a successful officer.

"I have been really proud of him. Happy with his results," said Patrol Officer Sam Schaefbauer, human partner to the 2-year-old dog.

Between Major and Axel, the department's 6-year-old police dog, more than $26,633 worth of narcotics was taken off the street last year.

"Having two dogs has only enhanced that," Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt said. "They really complement each other."

Axel has been the K-9 partner of Officer Chris Flatten since December 2014.

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Axel's drug seizure total in 2018 was $22,778, Major sniffed out $3,855 worth.

"Most of that was meth," Felt said, but there were many other different kinds of drugs.

Major's numbers reflect his partial year of work: He was on full-time duty only for about six months in 2018 and spent the first half of the year on extensive and intensive training.

Part of Major's, and Axel's, training is how to sniff out narcotics. They can smell a wide range of drugs from marijuana to methamphetamine and heroin.

"They all smell different to (the dogs)," Felt said.

The dogs also assisted with seizing property, usually associated with the drugs they find.

"It can be cash property, things involved in the sale of narcotics," Felt said.

Major was part of three cash seizures, three vehicles and one weapon, totaling $17,095. Axel helped bring in 12 vehicles, six cash seizures and three weapons, totaling $38,127.

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Some of that money and property the Police Department can keep and use to fund counter-drug efforts - such as purchasing a police dog.

"That was how we afforded Major," from the proceeds of the seizures Axel helped bring in, Felt said. "Axel paid for his own partner."

Both dogs, and their human counterparts, were kept quite busy in 2018. Major was deployed 353 times, though most of that was for training purposes. Highlights included three subject apprehensions and four tracking events. He also took part in 47 narcotic cases.

"He has been solid on absolutely everything," Schaefbauer said. "It is fun to watch him work."

Axel was deployed 296 times, which included one suspect apprehension and six tracking incidents. Eighty-nine of those calls were for narcotics.

"Axel did three public demonstrations as well," Felt said.

The dogs also helped other law enforcement agencies.

"Major was called to assist seven different times," helping the CEE-VI Drug Task Force and the Sheriff's Offices of Kandiyohi, Swift and Lac qui Parle counties, Felt said.

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Axel was even busier.

"Axel assisted 22 different times," Felt said. He helped the Benson Police Department, Brown-Lyon-Redwood-Renville Drug Task Force and the State Patrol.

In the eyes of the Willmar Police Department, last year was definitely a success and shows the great worth a department can gain when adding a dog to the ranks.

"The public safety aspect of it is hard to put a price on it," Felt said.

The dogs are also wonderful for community relationships. Children love the dogs and even adults can be put at ease.

"They are an incredible public relations tool," Felt said.

While the dogs have been great for the department, Felt wants to make sure their human partners get some credit as well.

"I want to compliment both Sam and Chris," Felt said. "They spend a lot of time off-duty caring for the dogs. They are real partners."

Both Axel and Major live with their handlers and are part of the officers' families. When the dogs are not on duty, they act just like any dog would.

"He likes to have fun and play," Schaefbauer said of Major.

As Major and Schaefbauer enter their second year together as a team, Schaefbauer said he has enjoyed his first year as a K-9 officer.

"We've come a long way in a year," Schaefbauer said. "It has been a good first year."

The department is looking forward to the future with their two dogs.

"As each one continues to grow and train, together they will be even better," Felt said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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