By Peter Nuttall
Living In The Ledge Staff Reporter
He walks on four legs and is covered in fur and doesn’t look like a normal member of the Grand Ledge Police Department, but it has been confirmed that he can do things that no other officer in Grand Ledge can do.
Grand Ledge’s current canine that is tasked with helping keep Grand Ledge safe is D’Ash, a Belgian Malinois, that works with his partner, police officer Justin Barber. Barber is going on 10 years at the Grand Ledge Police Department and has been working with D’Ash since 2011.
“Every cop wants to do it,” said Barber when asked how he got involved with the canine unit. “I love dogs, working with dogs. I’m very passionate about it.”
D’Ash was imported through Poland. He’s named in honor of former police officer David Ash, who was a veteran officer of over 30 years. Ash passed away while on duty in 2007 of natural causes. D’Ash is dual trained in narcotics detection and tracking, which required extensive training for both him and Barber.
“I worked through Mid-Michigan Kennels and D’Ash and I received six weeks of initial training where he was imprinted in odors of narcotics and tracking,” Barber said.
The training doesn’t stop there. Barber said they train every day whether it’s odor detection, tracking, or obedience. A typical day for them also includes call outs which includes car searches for other officers. Barber said how often they get called out depends.
“We’re probably called out around 3-5 times a week,” he said.
In October, Grand Ledge Police Chief Martin Underhill said at a city council meeting that D’Ash and Barber were involved in 10 canine related calls that included tracking an armed car thief, an armed robber, and they also detected people selling drugs that included marijuana and methamphetamines.
One of D’Ash’s other successes over his career at the Grand Ledge Police Department includes tracking a missing 3-year old child who had mistakenly walked into a field of tall weeds and became lost.
Barber and D’Ash are two of the many reasons Grand Ledge is rather safe compared to the rest of the United States. According to citydata.com, Grand Ledge’s violent crime rate of 55.0 in 2013 was much lower than the United States’ average of 203.3 in 2013.
The city’s property crime rate in 2013 of 99.6 was also significantly lower than the United States’ average of 250.2.
However University of Michigan-Flint criminal justice professor Kenneth Litwin said that police dogs are also very important to police departments for other reasons besides their strong noses. For one, he said that they can be beneficially used as a morale-builder and also said it can be beneficial in reducing stress in officers who work with canines.
“Research has shown that officers that are working with the canine units usually enjoy their job more than the other officers,” Litwin said.
Litwin also said that having a dog can also possibly bring together the police and the citizens that they’re trying to protect.
“Having a dog can make people more approachable in some situations,” Litwin said.
Barber said that’s exactly what D’Ash does. He’s used to bridge the gap between the police and the community and it helps community relations.
“People in the community know D’Ash,” Barber said. “Most of the time they’re able to pet him and socialize with him.”
Underhill said that D’Ash also does demonstrations for schools and community groups, if invited. Barber said when there, the kids and him will usually hide something and have D’Ash go and find it. He’s trained to sit when he find narcotics.
“A lot of the Boy Scouts request us,” Barber said. “They love it.”
Right now Barber and D’Ash are the only canine unit in Grand Ledge. Barber said that Eaton County only has two canine units on the road — he and D’Ash are one of them. However he believes there’s room in the Grand Ledge Police Department for other canine units.
“I would love to see every officer with a dog,” Barber said. “Their uses are countless.”