ZPD K-9 Mika Reporting for Duty
The Zionsville Police Department (ZPD) and Zionsville community collectively mourned the passing of K-9 Jelka in the summer of 2019. Jelka’s handler of four years, ZPD’s K-9 Corporal Josh Stutesman, shared that he had reservations about selecting and working with another K-9 until he was introduced to Mika last November.
Upon meeting the 1-year-old Belgian Malinois/Hungarian German Shepherd mix, Stutesman felt an immediate connection with Mika—one that he attributes to divine intervention and to his previous four-legged partner Jelka’s spirit. After six weeks of training up at Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, Indiana, K-9 Mika reported for duty on Dec. 18, 2020, where she serves ZPD and the local community as a drug-detection, tracking and apprehension canine.
I spoke with Stutesman about how Mika is adjusting to her official role and to life in Zionsville, as well as the general purpose and success of ZPD’s K-9 Unit.
A Brief Overview of ZPD’s K-9 Unit
ZPD K-9s are full-fledged police officers, and in addition to being terrific companions, they assist the department in reducing the number of officers needed for a search. K-9s also perform more thorough searches. ZPD currently has two K-9s, Thor and Mika. K-9 Thor and his handler, ZPD Officer Jacob Shelburne, have been a team since 2017.
The benefits of having a police K-9 on the department include the following:
A K-9s keen sense of smell helps them to detect items that a human officer might miss, especially drugs and bombs. With training, K-9s can even sniff out drugs that are sealed in plastic.
K-9s can search for flammables and explosives. A positive indication from a K-9 is legal grounds to establish probable cause for a search.
K-9s are frequently used to track missing people in search-and-rescue missions. Once a dog is given a piece of an item with the scent of a specific person, they can lead the police down the path that person took. This is also useful when tracking down suspects or escaped convicts. During a pursuit or search-and-rescue mission, every minute counts, so having this extra knowledge is invaluable.
A K-9 program is costly. The cost of a K-9 can be as much as $10,000 upfront, and that doesn’t include the training of the dog and its handler, which can cost thousands more. Additionally, there are more expenses, such as insurance and specialized patrol vehicles. However, once the program is up and running, most departments can’t imagine going back to the days without a K-9 program.
A Divine Matchup
I spoke with Stutesman about what it’s been like working with Mika after suffering such a devastating loss with Jelka and how much the community’s support helped him and his family through that grief.
“I’m overwhelmed, not surprised, but overwhelmed by the support that I’ve gotten [from the community] with Mika and with the passing of Jelka,” Stutesman shared. “Typically, they don’t allow you to pick such a young dog—they’re usually 2 ½ years old before you can pick them—but there was something about her, and thank God that he guided me to her because I was leery about picking a second dog because I knew that no one would be like Jelka.”
But, as Stutesman expressed, Jelka may have also had a hand—or paw, in this case—in his finding Mika.
“I’m a believer that Jelka helped push us together,” Stutesman said. “I see a lot of her in Mika, and that’s helped us bond as quickly as we have.”
A Specific Set of Skills
Not all K-9s have the same skill sets. In the case of Mika, she is a “dual purpose” or “multipurpose” canine.
“Mika searches out narcotics in vehicles, homes, backpacks, lockers, purses or wherever I need her to search out,” Stutesman explained. “She is a tracking dog as well. So, if we have suspect that has run into the woods or into a home, etc., she would be able to track them down and locate them so we can safely apprehend them. If I need her to, she can also apprehend.”
In addition to developing high-level skills, it is important for both a K-9 and its handler to develop a strong level of trust between one another.
“Mika knows my emotions, and when we’re out working, that is something that helps build up the trust between us ever more,” Stutesman said. “People said they could see the bond that Jelka and I had, and I guarantee that they’ll be able to see it between Mika and I too. We have two incredible dogs here in Zionsville, and Mika’s only going to continue to get better from here on out.”
All in a Day’s Work
ZPD K-9s are undoubtedly earning their keep. Along with their handlers, the K-9s work alternating 12-hour shifts. And in their “downtime,” they are training with their handlers and sometimes other officers. But just like us, when their shift is done, K-9s like to come home and chill out.
“We put in about 156 hours every two weeks, and we are on-call 24/7,” Stutesman said. “So, we could get a call at 1 o’clock in the morning to come out and search a vehicle. Working 12-hour shifts and being always on guard is very tiring, so we have to give the K-9s a chance to rest so that they’re in tip-top form to do their jobs.”
Additionally, Stutesman shared that the handlers and their K-9s train about 30 hours plus a month with a training group in Fishers, Indiana.
“We have an amazing group that we train with from Fishers, Noblesville and other surrounding communities/counties,” Stutesman expressed. “All of the training has to be real-life-scenario based. What happens with dogs is that if they’re not comfortable going into the woods because they don’t like the grass or the twigs hitting them in the face but they see their handler walk into the woods, showing them that it’s fine, that’s all they need to see to be comfortable with the situation.”
Keeping Crime and Drugs From Coming Into Our Community
Since its inception, ZPD’s K-9 Unit has not only served our community and county but has assisted neighboring communities and counties as well. Stutesman emphasized the importance of keeping crime and drugs out of our county before it has the opportunity to penetrate Zionsville, and the K-9s are a vital part of those efforts.
“Our K-9 unit is becoming seen as something that can be utilized beyond our town’s boundaries,” Stutesman said. “And that is a result of Officer Shelburne’s and Thor’s hard work and what they put into the unit as well. We both want to go out there and show the town and the surrounding counties that we’re not just strictly [protecting] Zionsville. Because we know what happens in adjacent counties is only a few steps from coming into our town. So, if we can stop it from even entering our town and county, the better off we are. Our department has allowed us to help out surrounding towns, cities and counties, and without that support coming from our department, we would just be in our little bubble here, hoping that nothing comes in.”
Stutesman concluded, “As K-9 handlers, we are more than happy to go out and help other communities because the more work we get to do with our dogs, the better and the more determined we are to make this one of the best K-9 units in the county and surrounding counties. If we’re out there helping to not only bring our community together but also work to keep it one of the safest places in America, then I think we’re doing our jobs.”
If you are interested in helping support the ZPD K-9 Unit with monetary donations for the care and upkeep of Mika and Thor, please direct your tax-deductible donations to Zionsville Police Department K-9 Fund, 1075 Parkway Drive, Zionsville, IN 46077.