There’s a new officer in town, and he walks on four legs. Calo is a German shepherd—Belgian Malinois. In May, he became the first K-9 on the Maple Grove Police Department (MGPD) force in over 20 years.
“I was always told this was one of the hardest positions on the force, but this is a lifelong career goal for me,” says Officer Keith Stuart, who has nearly 20 years of law enforcement experience, including 15 with the MGPD. He’s done field training for new officers. He’s served on the SWAT team and as a sniper. And after months of specialized training, Stuart serves full-time as Calo’s handler—in a specially outfitted squad car—focusing on tracking missing people, personal belongings or drugs.
“Because of our population increase, we were relying on other agencies much more for assistance when it came to K-9 teams,” says Sergeant Andy Sandberg. He says the department has about 70 sworn-in officers, with the patrol division being the biggest and most visible part of the force. There are a few other special units, like the Safe Streets crime prevention team and plainclothes officers, who help with stings for prostitution and shoplifting. But there’s a unique bond between a handler and a K-9 officer, and it’s one that takes support and cooperation from the whole department.
Calo lives at Stuart’s home, and the pair works together to track human scents—whether from a missing person or fleeing suspect, or a weapon or personal item someone has dropped or thrown. The K-9 program was years in the making, but it received official city council approval in fall of 2017. That’s about when Calo began his initial training in Poland. He flew in last January, and he and Stuart engaged in four months of intensive, one-on-one training in Florida.
“It was extremely physical,” Stuart says. “We don’t anticipate doing a lot of bites, but that’s a very litigious part of the job. So we spent tons of time on that, perfecting that.” Members of the local community worked with the INvest Project to raise funds for a specially-fitted, bullet-proof canine vest, just in case.
Calo is a sociable dog, who loves being petted, but he also knows—and loves—when it’s time to go to work. Stuart keeps meticulous records about Calo’s training—when he has success or fails to track an item or person, and under what conditions—in case he is ever called in to testify about a case. Even on slow days, the pair trains constantly.
“He’s like my best friend—we have no qualms with each other. But it didn’t start that way. He’s very driven and headstrong,” Stuart says. “I go sit in his kennel—like a friend. So much of the handler role is getting the dog to buy into you as a member of their pack.”
After just two weeks on the job, Calo successfully tracked an article of interest: a knife. And in a moment, all the drills and training exercises paid off. “He snaps into business, and we’re like a couple of kids. It’s awesome to be able to have a success—he feeds off that, too,” Stuart says. “I go bananas with him.”