New K9 officer has ‘big paws to fill’


Jordan Gerard/SGH Lt. Trace Erickson kneels next to K9 Officer Roman. Erickson and Roman work as a team for the Houston County Sheriff’s Office, including patrol work and drug detection.
By : 
Jordan Gerard

He’s the fourth K9 Officer for the Houston County Sheriff’s Office and after the three previous officers, K9 Officer Roman has “big paws to fill.”

Two-and-a-half-year-old German shepherd Roman started with the department in early June after he was certified in May for patrol work and drug detection, says his handler, Lt. Trace Erickson.

“We won the team event for narcotics detection, with Officer Derrick Ellis from the Austin Police Department,” Erickson said. “To win, it means the dog is solid.”

Roman and Erickson scored 198.67 out of a possible 200 points and also won against 105 other teams. They placed first as a region team.

Since his work began at the sheriff’s office, Roman gets called out multiple times a week for drug detection and patrol work, Erickson said. 

When Roman is patrolling, he has the ability to track people such as suspects or lost children and elderly people. He’ll bark when he’s located them. Roman is also able to apprehend suspects by biting them with powerful jaws. 

“We always give a canine announcement to let people know we’re using the dog,” Erickson explained. “The exception is if it will harm an officer to give the announcement.”

Along with patrolling, Roman also protects Erickson and provides valuable back up for other officers. 

“He’s a police dog, so we have the ability to recall him,” Erickson said. “I use this term loosely, but he’s the only ‘weapon’ that we can pull the trigger to apprehend, stop, and immediately return.”

Roman takes directions from his handler to search rooms and buildings, send him around a corner to check things out and be called off an apprehension once the suspect complies. He can clear spaces in a fraction of the time it would take a human officer, and he explores every nook and cranny.

After he completes a search and finds nothing, the department is confident in giving peace of mind to victims of potential break-ins.

In drug detection, Houston County has always trained their K9s to detect anywhere from large to minute amounts on vehicles and people.

Like other dogs, Roman’s nose is his biggest tool. If a sterile cotton ball is placed next to narcotics, Roman smells it and sits to indicate he has detected something. 

“He can detect marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, meth and heroin,” Erickson said. “And he does it all for a ball.”

Roman’s favorite toy and reward is a ball on a rope. He loves going to work and handles his job well, Erickson said. As soon as Roman sees Erickson put on his uniform, he’s raring and ready to go.

When the department is searching for a K9 officer, they look for “drives” in a dog.

In green dogs, which is an extremely young dog, officers look for the ball drive or how many times the dog wants to chase the ball and if a dog is destined for police work, they usually just can’t get enough of chasing that ball.

Future K9 officers also need a high hunt drive. If the ball is thrown into the weeds and the dog is told to go find it, he’ll hunt until he finds it.

In addition to those specific drives, the dog needs to be environmentally sound and accustomed to loud noises like gunfire. Consistency is key to a well-rounded K9.

Roman is from Slovakia and was purchased for the department for $8,500. He was brought over to the U.S. and Erickson trained him, as he has with previous K9s Ike and Ray. K9s Chance and Virgil were partially trained when they arrived to the department.

“He’s 100 percent in. He has no fear at all,” he said. “Roman has a big impact on the county. The public knows we have a good, solid dog program.”

He’s very excited and intelligent, Erickson added. Another valuable quality in a K9 officer is their ability to turn work mode off.

Off the job, Roman is social and smart. He also enjoys exploiting his humans for treats. If he can sit half way down or not lie down all the way and get a treat for it, he’ll do it.

Erickson said he considers it an honor to work with Roman. He can help his fellow officers by bringing the K9 into the community.

“Sheriff Inglett makes sure we have a narcotics dog and can find things that people miss,” Erickson said. “We’re trying to fight this war on crime and on drugs, so we want that tool.”

Roman will likely give demonstrations around the county, as past K9s have. Look for them at National Night Out events, the Houston County Fair and school events.

The Houston County K9 Foundation also helped bring Roman to the department. They helped raise funds to purchase Roman and take care of expenses such as vaccines and veterinarian visits.

K9 Chance is enjoying his retirement after seven years of service for the department. K9s Ray, Virgil and Ike are fondly remembered as excellent K9s.

More than $9,000 was raised from a Go-Fund-Me campaign and other donations brought in, said Houston County K9 Foundation board member Josh Johnson.

“It was amazing how quickly the donations came in,” he remarked. “We met our goal within a week and a half.”

Donations are always welcome to the foundation, as supporting a K9 is more than just purchasing and providing well-earned kibble.

There are also expenses like vaccines; veterinarian visits; training for drugs, takedowns and search and rescue; and certification.

“Concerned citizens formed the K9 Foundation to support that cause,” Johnson said. “We got a few fairly good sized donations. People can still donate to us.”

The organization is a non-profit and is separate from the sheriff’s department. 

Check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Houston-County-K-9-Foundation-1401970983213530/.