Officer Brian Schmidt and his partner, Leo, routinely visit Carmel schools to ensure that lockers are clean and students are safe. The pair met in May, spent the month of June going through rigorous field training, and hit the streets for the first time on July 4th forming a unique partnership and the fourth K-9 unit to join the Carmel Police Department.
After 14 years on the force, officer Schmidt finally got the opportunity to become a canine cop and Leo became his colleague. “Leo is a black lab and bull terrier mix instead of a german shepherd,” said Schmidt. “He’s about three years old, is fun-loving and goofy, and doesn’t have a huge prey drive.” Prey drive refers to the instinctive desire to pursue and capture a predator. “We want a prey drive in the dog or what we call a high ball drive where the dog will do anything for that tennis ball.” In Leo’s case, he has been trained that the ball is the ultimate reward, but not trained to bite which makes Leo a good fit for working in the schools.
Leo is from Holland and has his own passport. “All of Leo’s commands are in Dutch. When I tell him to lay down, I tell him ‘Auf.’” Many of the police dogs are trained overseas thus officers must issue commands in the animal’s native language.
Leo is primarily prepared to detect four substances – marijuana, meth, cocaine and heroin. When Officer Schmidt takes Leo to search a school, he leads him along the lockers and pays close attention to any changes in behavior. “His head will turn back, you’ll see his breathing change, and he will press his nose against the locker. When he sits, that’s when we know.” At that point, the officer notes the locker number and alerts the schools’ student resource officer who checks the locker and determines the next course of action.
The duo visits elementary schools to introduce themselves to fifth graders who will be moving into the middle schools. “I tell the kids to admire the dog from a distance. He is there to work and is not there to cuddle up. When the kids see us, they have to walk to the opposite side of the hallway.” Officer Schmidt discusses Leo’s role, why they conduct searches, and impresses upon the students that even if they don’t participate in using any illegal narcotics, if they are present with other people who do use when they hang their coat up in their locker then it will smell like those drugs.
Carmel’s police department started the K-9 program in 1971. There are three additional teams, but they are dual purpose and trained to bite, apprehend, track predators, and discover narcotics. “When those dogs go into a school, that’s when the building goes on lockdown,” said Schmidt.
Police dogs are excellent tools to help officers do their jobs. The training for K-9 units is intense for both the officer and his/her four-legged partner. Alpha Dogs, a new show airing on the Nat Geo Wild cable channel, features the rigorous and meticulous canine training required to prepare the teams for law enforcement.
According to Schmidt, no one can argue with a dog’s nose and the keen sense of smell. “When it comes to odors, if you walk into my house and I’m cooking stew, you smell stew,” explained Schmidt. “When Leo walks in the house, he smells the peas, carrots, the meat, the broth. He breaks it down. That’s how a dog’s nose is made.” That ability to detect one scent among a plethora of smells is one of the reasons dogs are so valuable to police work. Leo’s acute sense of smell along with his fun-loving mentality makes him an important tool for school safety.