After hundreds of hours of training, the Southold Town Police Department recently welcomed its newest officer to its ranks: a two-year old German Shepherd named Solo.
With his handler, officer Shawn Williams, Solo completed a six-month patrol training program through the Suffolk County Police Department that featured courses in tracking, evidence recovery, building searches, agility and obedience.
“It was a very intense, but very rewarding course,” Mr. Williams said in an interview at police headquarters Thursday. “Both of us were learning together. It opened my eyes to how intelligent these dogs are and what they’re capable of.”
Mr. Williams, a native of Mattituck hired in 2016, knew from a young age that he wanted to become a police officer. But his ultimate goal was to become a K9 officer.
He credits retired police officer Frank Mele for showing him the ropes. Mr. Mele had worked as a K9 officer with Ajax, then with Hudzin.
“I’d always pick his brain whenever I got the chance,” Mr. Williams said, adding that Mr. Mele invited him to assist on several calls with Hudzin. “Seeing [Hudzin] at work really solidified the decision for me to apply for the position,” he said.
A community donation of $8,000 helped fund the purchase of Solo, who arrived late last summer from Slovakia.
He’s already joined Mr. Williams on the night shift, though hasn’t been deployed to any calls yet.
When they aren’t working, Solo spends time at home playing and bonding with Mr. Williams and his other German Shepherd, Leia.
Though he’s the newest member of the department, he may already be the most popular. Solo has already made appearances around town, visiting local schools and getting acclimated to being in the community.
“He’s got a very good temperament and demeanor and he does well in public,” Mr. Williams said. “He’s got a good personality.”
Police Chief Martin Flatley said having Solo is key for the department, which had been without a K9 unit since Mr. Mele’s retirement last spring.
“It’s very big to have him on every night because it gives us an extra car on the road at our busiest time, especially going into the summer,” Mr. Flatley said.
“He’s there to back up other officers on traffic and DWI stops, activated alarm calls and a lot of other heightened alert calls,” the chief added. Solo could also be called to assist in neighboring jurisdictions, Mr. Flatley said.
Eventually, Solo is expected to complete an advanced narcotics course. According to Mr. Williams, that course is also completed through the county, which offers specialty training in narcotics, cadaver and explosives.
But because of the recent legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, the drug will no longer be a part of that course.
“We’re not training them on marijuana anymore, but they will be imprinted on six different [drug] odors,” Mr. Williams said.
Until that course starts next fall, Mr. Williams said he’s enjoying getting back to work with his new partner.
“Thinking back to six months ago, not even knowing his name to now being able to find evidence or perform a track and find someone or search a building…it’s a very cool transformation.”