BOLINGBROOK – When Bolingbrook police officer Bob Liazuk barks orders at his partner – 6-year-old K-9 officer Leon – he only speaks Dutch.
Leon – like the Bolingbrook Police Department’s other four-legged officer, 10-year-old Golliath – is a Belgian Malinois who was born, raised and trained in the Netherlands and Germany before arriving at the states.
But, Leon and Golliath’s mastery of the Dutch pales in comparison with their extensive field training and proven police force track record.
For several years, the Bolingbrook Police Department K-9 Unit has been comprised of dogs from Indiana-based Vohne Liche Kennels – a full service K-9 training facility whose mission is to produce the most effective and versatile police and military service dog teams.
In addition to providing the animals for Bolingbrook and other local police departments, Vohne Liche produces dogs that land in the National Security Agency, Pentagon Police, U.S. State Department and U.S. Army.
After the Bolingbrook Police Department acquires patrol dogs, the officers’ best friends undergo maintenance training twice a month.
Each dog and their handlers – positions held by officers Liazuk and Rich Burdette – work with other local K-9 units, completing simulations such as open area narcotic work, vehicle searches, felony stops, bailout drills and chase situations, tracking, bite-scenario situations, article searches and building searches.
Liazuk, a 15-year veteran of the Bolingbrook Police Department, has handled Leon since he joined the K-9 unit four-and-a-half years ago. He said like the rest of Bolingbrook’s police force, Leon is all business when he’s on duty.
“We often joke that Leon has a switch,” Liazuk said. “When he is off-duty, Leon is a very social dog, often walking freely through the department offices. But, when it’s time to work, he flips a switch and is completely different.”
While most police K-9 units previously utilized German Shepherd breeds, more departments are opting for Leon’s Malinois breed, Liazuk said, because of their social nature, speed and durability.
“From what I’ve seen, about 60 percent of police dogs are Malinois,” Liazuk said. “They have a real high drive, they are smaller, lighter, faster, tend to work a little longer before they tire out.”
More than 90 percent of calls the K-9 unit responds to are narcotic cases, Liazuk said. Leon and Golliath also have been involved in several building searches and searches for missing people or suspects.
Once, Leon tracked down an offender who was hiding in a tree 40 feet above ground. He also has found two guns during his K-9 career, Liazuk said.
“You cannot put a price on the things he does,” Liazuk said. “They can find things with their nose that would take a person hours to do. Even taking a couple guns off the street is an amazing accomplishment.”
Bolingbrook Police Lt. Mike Rompa echoed Liazuk’s sentiments, but said the dogs also provide a criminal deterrent factor.
“The dogs are a source of intimidation,” Rompa said, explaining that suspects often surrender when they see a K-9. “In those situations, Golliath and Leon prevent potential injury and liability issues.”
While select police departments – Westmont in 2009 – have chosen to eliminate K-9 departments because of budget constraints, neither Rompa nor Liazuk foresee that happening in Bolingbrook.
The roughly $30,000 annual budget to maintain a K-9 unit is a small price to pay for the protection and service the dogs provide, they said.
Bolingbrook police often bring Leon and Golliath out to various community events as well, to show residents the value of the K-9 unit.
“We want people to know all that these dogs can do,” Liazuk said. “Handling a K-9 is very challenging, but extremely rewarding work.”