Sgt. Craig Seaman has been with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office for 17 years and has worked with law enforcement canines for nearly a decade – first, Jorka, who was put down several years ago after a battle with cancer, and now, Django, a 70-pound German Shepherd capable of tracking people and identifying drugs.
Seaman told The Times-Gazette that Django was a little more than a year old when he began sniffing for the sheriff’s office. The 70-pound German Shepherd was reared in the Czech Republic and was brought here from Holland in 2014.
“When they come over, the dogs are what we consider to be ‘green,’” Seaman said. “They just have a little obedience and they’ve maybe started on some bite work.”
Seaman said since Django began his training in the Czech Republic, all of his commands are spoken in Czech.
Police dogs and their handlers are required to complete 250 hours of basic training, Seaman said. Once that’s finished, they take a certification test, and if they pass, they are clear to work the streets.
Although Django is hardly a rookie – Seaman said he’s still fairly young at about 4.5 years old – he’s seen his fair share of action. Seaman said Django has identified narcotics in cars on a number of occasions and tracked and apprehended several subjects, both criminal and non-criminal.
“We’ll use him at a traffic stop where we suspect there are drugs in the car,” Seaman said. “Django can detect an odor coming from inside the car, and that allows us to search the car without the occupant’s consent… That’s a huge tool for us… We’ve had a lot of great tracks, and we’ve even located missing children.”
Seaman said Django at one point tracked down two young girls who wandered away from their home in Paint Township. The girls were 4 and 6 years old, and no one knew where they had gone, Seaman said.
“Django was able to pick up their track and we found them out in the woods near the house,” Seaman said.
Recently, Seaman said, Django helped apprehend a man who ran away from the scene of a possible meth lab.
“He ran, went through a field and into the woods. The other deputy chased him to the edge of the woods and held position for the beginning of the track… Django tracked the guy through the woods… and he was found hiding under some brush… Django engaged him and subdued him with a bite to his right knee that was exposed, and the guy was taken into custody there.”
According to Seaman, Django can sniff out objects as well, proving useful in a case last month when he was able to find a suspects’ wallet near a stolen shotgun.
As previously reported by The Times-Gazette, a man allegedly broke into a home on SR 73 in March, wrestled a shotgun from the homeowner, pointed it at motorists, stole a quad runner vehicle from another residence, and then barricaded himself in a relative’s home. After the suspect was apprehended, Seaman said law enforcement found the gun lying in some brush nearby, and Django used the scent from the gun to find the suspect’s wallet hidden under some leaves nearby.
“That pretty much sealed the case when we got the guy’s wallet near the gun,” Seaman said. “Without a dog, we would have never found the wallet, and most generally without a dog, you’re not going to find the bad guys when they run.”
Seaman said Django has recently had his best trackings so far and is showing improvement.
Sheriff’s deputy Daniel Hopkins said Django can be happy and fun-loving one moment, and extremely threatening the next, all depending on what the situation requires.
“He’s got a switch,” Hopkins said.
Seaman said if someone poses a threat to Seaman’s safety, Django goes on the offensive. The canine is trained to bite once and hold on, Seaman said, and the more a suspect struggles, the tighter Django’s grip becomes.
“We typically train dogs for arms and legs, but we also train for back bites, just for the fact that somebody’s running away,” Seaman said. “If somebody’s coherent enough to think, they’ll fold their arms up or tuck their arms in… The dog’s going to target what he can see.”
Around the office, Hopkins said, Django knows how to unwind – and even entertain those on duty.
“He’s like a big puppy,” he said.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.