Police Service Dog Marco was a 1 ½ year old Dutch Shepard when I first received him in 1992. He had been flown to the United States from Europe where he had been selected by the European vendor that our agency worked with. I had been selected to be a PSD handler and soon met Marco in October 1992. My new position in my agency had begun on October 12. I, as well as four other law officers had been selected to join the ranks of the Police Service Dog Unit. Although it was not a separate Division such as the Uniform, Criminal or Drug Division's in our agency yet, we were definitely in a specialized part of the agency in those days of '92.
Being a K-9 cop had been something that I had been interested in for some time because of the fact it was fairly new not just in our agency but in our state as a whole. Sure, there were a few agencies that had police dogs and had them as part of their agencies for a good long while. Note-worthy was the capitol city : Lincoln and the K-9 unit they had and how successful it had been for them. We were originally trained by a dog trainer company called Detector Dogs International who had been training the Border Patrol and other agencies all over the country for several years. After eight weeks of mostly ten to fifteen hour training days, we finally graduated to a certified PSD Team on December 12, 1992.
Right out of the gates, PSD Marco and me put a small crimp on the ‘drug traffickers' who ventured across our area on the Interstate and other roadways. Working hand in hand with other guys such as George Scott, Andy Allen, Jerry Schenck and Sgt. Chris Kolb; PSD Marco and I were kept pretty busy. Coming on as a PSD team only a year or so after the first PSD Team of Jerry Schenck and PSD Nero, we ventured into many great “bad guy catching” escapades. Jerry and PSD
Nero worked the day shift nabbing smugglers and literally thousands of pounds of marijuana and cocaine-laden vehicles in the early to late 90’s, (major methamphetamine trafficking had not yet started as the Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO's) had not yet taken that enterprise over from the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs-this would soon occur in the mid1990’s though).
Myself and PSD Marco would be assigned to the night shift (by my lack of seniority with Jerry's 19 years versus my 4 years) and we ventured more into foiling the “breaking and entering” arena of criminality for agencies such as the Hall and Hamilton County Sheriff’s Departments but mainly the Grand Island Police Department were the ones who kept me the most busy with the patrol calls. I still got plenty involved in the drug seizure business watching Marco sniff them out, but the patrol calls
early on was what Marco first made his name known for.
The GIPD kept me very busy on my night shifts. I still tell the stories to new guys of Sergeant Pete Kortum of the GIPD who would call me directly at home for a faster response to their assistance after the first ‘caper’ of a burglar being caught by PSD Marco. Pete who has been deservedly promoted through the ranks and now is a Captain with the GIPD and one day most likely will be Chief, would call me directly at home usually at about 3 or 4 AM while I was fast asleep in an ‘REM state’ and he would ask for PSD Marco as well as my assistance.
Now you're probably saying, “I thought you were assigned ‘night shift’
with PSD Marco? Why would you be asleep at 3 or 4 AM?” Well...the night shift for me was not actually “nights”. It was more like a “swing shift”. I worked generally either 4 PM to midnight or maybe 6 pm to 2 AM in the summer. It was generally my luck that I would be asleep when the call would come from him. Back in those young days of mine, being woken up once, and sometimes two times in a night for a callout was what I lived for. The adrenaline really starts flowing fast as you are told the PD (police department) has a guy surrounded in a building that he was burglarizing, or a call for the dog because a guy that has denied a copper consent to search his car and PSD Marco is desperately needed.
Out of bed I would hop, then get dressed in my black patrol BDU's (Battle Dress Uniform), gun belt, bullet proof vest and me and Marco would be on our way as quick as we could. I always knew time was of the essence. The very first “apprehension” for Marco was a week or so after graduating to the “streets” as a PSD Team in 1992 Grand Island had never had a PSD Team in the area and knowing one was available now, the Police; especially Sgt. Pete Kortum upon it with vigor and many times enthusiasm. In a city of almost 40,000 people it was a target rich area and Marco proved himself more than once.
On this first callout, dispatch called me at home and said the GIPD believed they had a guy inside of the Trinity School in Grand Island. I got dressed and sped off with PSD Marco and met with Pete out in the parking lot. Pete explained “I’m not sure if he’s still in there Greg... we haven’t had any alarms from the motion detectors go off in a while so he
may have slipped out before my guys were all set up.” (on perimeter duty). I told him that we’d give it a try anyway. What the hell? I'm already out of bed; just as well let Marco take a check inside the school. Even if the bad guy’s gone, Marco still gets the training aspect of searching the building. At this early stage in his long career, he would not know if it’s for real or not. Pete advised the fellow officers that myself and PSD Marco were entering the front doors and that they should watch their locations with great attention.
We entered quietly only a few feet into the old school. We didn't use any flashlights so as to not give our positions away. We crept to the edge of the long hallway and when I saw that Pete and Marco were ready, I yelled out my commands as required by policy. “State Patrol!...sound off or I’ll send the dog!” This was repeated a minimum of two times. A well trained PSD is supposed to not make a sound during this announcement. It’s called “surveillance position”. The dog quietly listens for any movements or sounds away from his handler during the ‘surveillance position’. But the only problem was that Marco, who was by all accounts a well trained PSD, also had a reputation that he liked to do things his way sometimes. So on this virgin of occasions on a real callout, Marco decided to rambunctiously bark repeatedly the instant he heard those commands from me. In fact he was so riled up and excited, as I desperately tried to control him by hanging onto his collar and yelling my lawful commands, he whipped his head back and decided to see if I’d flinch by him literally biting the hand that feeds him. Of course I didn't feel his canines penetrating my right forearm. In fact I didn't even realize it until later that the son-of-a-gun had also ripped my cool agency “raid jacket” with his thirst for the bad guy. As soon as the commands were yelled and all the commotion Marco was making, it was pretty obvious to the ‘bad guy’ we really did have a dog. I then heard footsteps running down the hall. Yes it was the burglar running and getting away and as quick as I let Marco go I figured this guy was going to get his butt bit. I mean, my arm had already been bit and I was supposed to be in the building. The bad guy sure as hell deserved it more than me. PSD Marco ran down the hall as fast as he could but in all reality was not very fast. Remember... this was a school. Not a new school with carpet. An old school with slick tile on the floor. And running on tile with toenails and four pads isn't the easiest thing to do if you are a dog.
Bad-Guy Michael England had been at the end of the hallway when the barking started. As Marco ran, and slid, and ran and slid, he came closer to the burglars butt. But the burglar escaped out the side door just in time for him (still with the stolen TV in his hands) to run into the waiting arms of Grand Island police officer Frank Bergmark. It wasn't the all-time, world-class greatest apprehension of a criminal but it was a big deal for me as Marco had made his first apprehension. I mean what was better than catching a burglar running out with a TV still in his hands into the hands of the police? The officers from the police department thought it was great, Pete thought it was great, and I definitely thought it was great. Even Marco thought it was great. I praised-up Marco, took him home and gave him a piece of steak that was in the fridge. It would become a very expensive reward as I promised to officers from then on Marco would get a piece of meat or steak every time he caught a bad guy.
It was only weeks later that Marco got to prove himself all over again. I was called out by the dispatch that the GIPD had a possible burglar inside of a local bowling alley. Eventually Marco and I would work day by day for a total of 8 1/2 years. When I finally had to retire him, it was a difficult decision to make but one I still feel was the right one to make. Marco had started to get dysplasia in the hip area and with the medication he was taking and the fact that I did not want to work him until he was crippled, I decided to retire Marco out at age 10. June 1, 2001 was Marco's official last day.
Marco would be responsible in his 8 1/2 years of sniffing out literally tons of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine and 'currency galore' and would receive several specialized awards. His awards include winning Gold, Silver and Bronze medals repeatedly in both 1996 and 1998 in Salt Lake City at the Utah Police Service Dog Championships in the categories of: High Risk Building Search, Toughest Dog, Fastest Dog, Mile and a Half Obstacle Course, SWAT Dog Deployment and the Dual Dog Deployment Competition. Marco also would receive a Special commendation for an apprehension on a cold,dark night in the snow-filled fields of my midwest state for a suspect out of Texas wanted forseveral dangerous felony charges.
On February 13, 2004 I would have to put Marco 'down' . Marco was a great dog and he'll always be one of the agencies finest K-9's. And the many things he would help myself and other officers as a K-9 with us performing Criminal Interdiction would astound me.