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Fighting crime: It's a dog's life for some officers

June 19, 1997
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
By Ellen O. Drenkhahn

Collinsville has a new dynamic duo patrolling its streets. These highly trained crime fighters are police officer Curt Jackson and his canine partner, Zack.

Zack wears a shiny detachable police badge on his dog collar, signifying his official status. Both the officer and dog are ready to do whatever is needed in the line of duty.

"Well-trained dogs can be a very valuable tool in police work," Jackson said. "They are good in searching buildings for suspects because they have a keen sense of smell. A darkened unfamiliar building can be very dangerous for a police officer because there are just too many places for someone to hide."

Zack recently completed the training he needed to be put in service. He is Collinsville's third police dog, with Jackson having trained as only the second local canine officer.

Officer Rich Pyles, who has been on medical leave since a serious traffic accident last Nov. 4, was the department's first canine officer. Pyles and his partner, Blitz, were answering a police call when the accident occurred.

Blitz has recovered from injuries suffered in the crash but hasn't been returned to service as a police dog.

Police dogs are used in sniffing out drugs, tracking and chasing suspects. They learn to be extremely loyal and protective of their human partners.

Jackson is a three-year veteran of the Collinsville Police Department and was one of several officers who applied for the canine officer position earlier this year.

Before moving to Collinsville, Jackson was stationed at Scott Air Force Base, where he was a staff sergeant. He spent 10 years in the Air Force, the last seven with a military canine unit.

"I fell into the position in the military and really enjoyed working with the canine unit," Jackson said. "I was stationed in New Mexico and the Philippines. The military working-dog program has a lot of dogs in the Philippines."

Jackson said he jumped at the chance to work with a canine unit again in Collinsville.

He first met Zack on April 11, when he brought the dog home to meet his family. When not on duty, Zack lives with Jackson and his family. Zack is a two-year-old, black-and-tan German Shepherd that the Collinsville Police Department purchased through the police academy in Evansville, Ind.

The pair had two weeks to get to know each othed before attending a six-week training course together at the Evansville academy. There, they received certification that enables the team to work together as a criminal investigative unit.

Shortly after returning to Collinsville, Jackson and Zack attended the Belleville trials of the U.S. Police Canine Association for Region 16. They earned a Level I certification and also qualified to go the national competition in Lakeland, Fla., in November.

Pyles, the police department's first canine officer, joined the department in March 1991. He brought with him his canine partner - Barron, a large, mostly black German Shepherd. Barron was retired due to age in 1993 and was replaced by Blitz, who is now eight years old.

Although Blitz received minor injuries in the car crash and is capable of returning to work, he was not assigned to work with another police officer.

"We don't know what Rich's (Pyles') prognosis is at this point," said Collinsville Police Chief Gerrit Gillespie. "Rich and all of us (in the department) are holding out hope that he will be back with Blitz at some point.

"But we had to consider that Blitz is on the downside of his service and may have only two or three years left. We decided that it was in the city's best interest to purchase a new dog now and train another officer."

Copyright 1997 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.

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