Biting into crime: Smyrna revives K9 unit

SMYRNA — A crime occurs, and fast arriving police officers find that a suspect fled just moments ago.

Law enforcement sets up a perimeter in the surrounding area to cover possible avenues of escape.

With Smyrna Police Department K9 units soon at the scene, the chance of apprehension increases dramatically.

That’s what Pfc. Brian Donner envisions when he and crime-fighting partner Rex debut in early August.

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Smyrna police PFC Kirk Ruquet, left, holds Ronin as the dog attacks Lt. Phil Klink, patrol supervisor for the newly-reinstalled K-9 unit in the department. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)


“There are countless times that we get reports of in-progress crimes and upon arrival find that a suspect or suspects have just fled,” Pfc. Donner said.

“A perimeter is great, but if there’s a perimeter with dogs involved, you’ll get the suspect.”

A $29,000 state grant allowed Smyrna police to purchase two German Shepherds — Ronin and Rex — and fund their stay on the force for 18 months.

Authorities said they are committed to keeping the program together after that, and are already working on grant applications and seeking private donations to make it happen.

Count Pfc. Kirk Ruquet among the true believers in what can be accomplished with his partner Ronin, a 60-pound, 11-month-old projected to put on another 20 to 30 pounds when fully grown.

“He’s hyper now, but I think he’ll be a good dog,” he said.

A 12-week patrol training course for officer and K9 will prepare them for action, along with a 10-week narcotics training session in the fall.

“One of the reasons I have always liked K9s is because what the dogs can do is amazing,” Pfc. Ruquet said. “From tracking, to drug detection and even a simple apprehension of a suspect, it is truly unreal what the dogs can do.”

Born in Slovakia before being moved to Tarheel Canine Training Inc. in Sanford, North Carolina, the K9s were purchased by Smyrna Police last winter for $6,500 each. They will take their commands in German, authorities said.

Welcome addition

Inside the station and on the streets, canines affect the interactive atmosphere between officers and those they contact.

“Having a K9 around eases tensions within the department,” Chief Norman Wood said. “If someone is having a bad day, a dog passing by can lighten the mood a bit.”

A barking, snarling, shaking K9 also can convince a person ordered to comply while being taken into custody, police said, even if the dog stays in the patrol vehicle. Often, according to authorities, its presence alone will diffuse a situation before it evolves into a physical, hands-on confrontation.

“Officers never want to go hands-on unless it’s absolutely needed, so anything that can help them avoid that situation is most welcomed,” Chief Wood said.

Pfcs. Donner and Ruquet take their dogs home at night, and are available to respond in short order if a request for assistance is made. One of the requirements for K9 officer candidates was that they must reside within 10 miles of Smyrna.

Chief Wood said the department “took a big step backward” when the K9 unit was disbanded roughly five years ago. Lt. Phillip Klink, who was one of the original handlers and partnered with a dog from 1997 to 2010 said budgetary, administrative philosophy and other issues put a stop to the program.

In the interim, Lt. Klink said that Smyrna Police has “constantly” called for a dog nearly every day, which arrived from Dover Air Force Base, state, Dover and New Castle County police, among other sources.

During the hour or so that a K9’s arrival takes at times, a suspect’s trail can go cold; if no dog is present, Lt. Klink said. Also, the 2014 retirement of the nearby Clayton Police’s K9 hampered the time factor even more.

Plus, the Smyrna Police Department believes in handling its own business whenever possible.

“A big benefit of this is not having to rely on other agencies to provide support,” Lt. Klink said. “We want to be as self-sufficient as possible and we don’t want to have someone deploying their resources elsewhere when we need assistance.”

Off duty dog

At home, the K9s are trained to be off duty as well.

“A dog has to have down time and starts to understand that when he is home and in his kennel that is the time,” Lt. Kirk said.

With the dogs in Smyrna for roughly a month now, the partnership with their handler is still evolving. Lt. Klink has fielded calls from Pfcs. Donner and Ruquet, seeking advice on a myriad of issues involving proper care and feeding.

“A great thing about starting the program back up now is that Lt. Klink with all his experience is here to help us with anything we might need to know,” Pfc. Donner said.

In his short time with Rex and Ronin around, Pfc. Donner has become aware of just how perceptive the K9 is.

“I’m surprised for being untrained how much intelligence and instinct they have,” he said.

“They’re extremely quick learners and any instruction of guidance they pick up immediately and keep it from then on.

“Once they learn to do something, they’ll never forget how to do it.”

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