One of the University Police Department’s newest recertified officers is only 10 years old and will almost always be seen with a tennis ball and covered in fur.
K9 Fritz, a Belgian malinois, came to UPD with Patrolman Rick Howell in October 2016 from the Muncie Police Department. Howell and Fritz have worked together for three years, and Fritz is Howell’s third K9 that he has handled. Fritz is “captain social” and originally came from Holland, so all of his commands are given in Dutch. Fritz is cross-trained, meaning he can do tracking, building and area searches, handler protection and narcotic detection.
“You’ll never find a dog that’s trained in both drugs and bombs, because [if] I go sweep a car and we get an indication, you tell me if it’s a drug or bomb,” Howell said. “He can find four odors — marijuana, heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine and any derivatives of those.”
When Fritz finds drugs, he actually thinks that he is finding a ball. He was trained by first being allowed to play with several tennis balls in a box. Then, another box had one tennis ball and the odors of all four drugs. Fritz sniffed the box and then was told to sit, and when he sat, he was given a ball.
“In his head — 'I smelled this smell, I sat down, I got a ball.' That’s how they work; they’re not hardwired like you and I where we think in reasoning. They think at the moment … [training] just keeps building from there,” Howell said.
Before coming to UPD, Howell spent 21 years at the Muncie Police Department. Muncie Police donated Fritz to UPD, and it is estimated that he will have one and a half to two years left before retiring. Fritz lives at Officer Howell’s home in an outside area and will continue to live with Howell when he retires.
“He’s a trained attack dog; he has to have his space,” Howell said. “They’re tools and need to be trained appropriately, but he’s social.”
Fritz goes on patrol with Officer Howell every day that he works. Howell responds to calls for service like any other officer, but if there is a need for a specialized K9, Howell will be the primary officer for the call.
“Unless there’s a reason that he can’t come to work, he comes to work with me," Howell said. "I try not to take that car out of my driveway without him in the back of it.
“I think [having a K9 officer] is the greatest thing in the world. I’ve got a buddy who doesn’t complain about the radio station I listen to, how hot or cold I have the heat, where I go to eat. Best partner you can have. … I tell people all the time that when I was at Muncie, for sure I probably would have been in a lot more fights than I ever had to be in if I didn’t have some crazy dog in the backseat barking all the time. There’s an aspect that’s secure, knowing that you have him in the back.”
UPD Chief James Duckham said Fritz is a great resource for the department not only for police work, but also for engagement.
“I also think it’s an opportunity for students to engage with the police officers. … People will ask, 'What kind of dog is that,' just some simple kind of question like that, and next thing you know, there’s a conversation happening,” Duckham said. “Most people like animals; it’s a conversation piece.”
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UPD recently hosted an event at Mysch/Hurst with Officer Howell and Fritz. Duckham estimated that of the 100 people who attended, 80 students petted or interacted with Fritz, and some who didn’t asked Officer Howell questions. Duckham is unsure if UPD will get more K9s, but he is open to the possibility depending on resources.