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Introducing Falco

NLPD’s first K-9 joins the squad
Officer Benjamin Campbell poses with the NLPD’s newest recruit, Falco, who joined the squad in late 2017. A Holland-born Belgian Malinois, Falco is the department’s first K-9 and is handled solely by Officer Campbell. (photo by Cale Stelken)

North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– Residents of North Liberty rest assured, Falco’s got you covered.
The North Liberty Police Department (NLPD) recently recruited its first K-9, a nearly 60-pound Belgian Malinois. Falco, who joined the NLPD in early December, provides a much-needed asset in broadening police coverage in Johnson County.
“Before, it was hit or miss; you’d call for a dog and there wouldn’t be one working,” recalled Falco’s handler, Officer Benjamin Campbell.
“But now, we almost have 24/7 coverage.”
Falco’s typical shift begins at 4 p.m. and runs late into the night. Vehicle detection and looking for narcotics make up the majority of the new K-9’s objectives.
“Our first night on, I did a vehicle stiff in Oxford,” Officer Campbell recalled.
“If somebody calls us and they need us to search a vehicle for suspected narcotics, we can go anywhere in the county as long as we can get there in a reasonable time.”
Falco’s nose has also proven invaluable for detecting what is known as ground disturbance.
“He goes off human odor,” explained Campbell. “He can tell the difference between a footprint and somewhere where there’s not a footprint.”
This proves essential in tracking, for example, someone who’s left the scene of a crime or a child that’s run away from home, said Campbell, who cited a recent case in which they tracked a runaway child.
“If somebody’s walking on the bike trail, and their wallet or cell phone falls out of their pocket, we can do an article search and he’ll find those actual articles,” he explained.
“That’s his bread and butter.”
When dealing with unruly suspects, Falco can bark repeatedly in what is known as post up, or if left with no other options, apprehend the suspect.
“It’s strictly a last resort if officer lives are in danger, if citizen lives are in danger and it’s deemed that he needs to apprehend that person,” said Campbell.
While on duty, Falco remains alert, constantly looking to Campbell, his sole handler, for direction.
“Everything runs down leash,” he asserted. “If I’m getting amped up, if we’re getting ready to work, he can sense that on me. If he sees that I’m calm, he brings it way down.”
The decision to recruit a K-9 didn’t come lightly to the NLPD.
“They’re expensive. There’s no way around that,” Campbell acknowledged.
“Not only do you have to pay for the dog, you have to pay the training, the officer’s time at the training and to equip the vehicle.”
This means having a cruiser specially designed for Falco.
“The whole back end is a kennel for him,” noted Campbell. The roomy interior includes a dog dish and red lighting to better accommodate Falco’s eyes. The door is piston-driven and remote controlled for quick access.
“I can push a button and pop his door open without even touching it,” the officer explained, adding that he can activate it from as far as 100 yards away.
A small partition door to the front of the cruiser also provides Falco access to his “dad.”
“He can hang out with me up front and gets his scratches that way while we’re working,” Campbell said.
According to Campbell, the decision to bring a K-9 onto the squad comes down to cost and the size of the department.
“With us only having 22, soon to be 23 (officers), it’s not realistic for us to have two dogs right now,” he said.
For context, the Iowa City and University of Iowa police departments each have two K-9s, while Coralville and Johnson County have one each, with the latter about to get a second.
The NLPD narrowed their search to three kennels before a friend of Officer Campbell’s from the academy suggested Canine Tactical in Chariton.
“It being in Iowa, I actually got to go visit and meet him in person,” he recalled.
“He’s been doing it for over a decade; he’s a retired Navy Seal; we can’t really beat that going anywhere else,” Campbell said of the Chariton-based breeder.
Falco, however, was born and raised in Holland before coming to the U.S. The owner of Canine Tactical hand-selected Falco among three other dogs on a trip to Florida.
And for those curious, Falco’s first language is Dutch. Officer Campbell makes frequent use of the command “blijven,” used to tell Falco to remain calm and still. Falco does, however, take to a few English phrases, like “sit” and “good boy.”
While Officer Campbell spent five weeks training with his new K-9 in Chariton, for Falco, much of the training was already in the bag.
“He’s already kind of got things figured out for himself,” Officer Campbell remarked.
For the first year of his life, Falco was trained in Holland on basic obedience and commands. From there, he was largely trained, or “imprinted” on narcotics work at Canine Tactical.
“The biggest thing for us is to get him to bond with me,” said Campbell.
That bonding will be an ongoing process, with Campbell and Falco returning for two consecutives days each month to Chariton, as well as daily training.
“We train every single day for a minimum of 15 minutes,” he added.
When Falco’s shift is over, he goes home with Officer Campbell to shed his authoritative duties.
“He’s definitely a family member at home, but he’s also a city employee for North Liberty,” Officer Campbell said. “I just have the luxury to take him home.”
Falco shares his home with two other dogs who’ve welcomed him as their new brother. Campbell described Falco’s reaction to coming home with him the first time.
“You could almost see it in his face and in his body language; he was able to calm down and relax,” the officer recalled.
“All he’s known his whole life is training, from the time that they weaned him off mom at seven or eight weeks to today,” Officer Campbell noted.
“He was a tool, and that’s all he did was train. But now he gets to be a dog,” he said, adding Falco relishes the opportunity to play fetch and rummage in the creek at Campbell’s family’s farm.
Falco has already started giving the public opportunities to welcome him into the community, appearing at Clear Creek Amana Middle School’s Breakfast with Santa last month. He’ll also be at Beat the Bitter’s Freezin’ for a Reason Polar Plunge at Centennial Park Pond on Sunday, Jan. 28. The event will raise funds to provide food, vaccinations and training for Falco, who will be onsite for a demonstration with Officer Campbell.
He’s also planned for appearances at Blues & BBQ in the summer and Colony Pumpkin Patch in the fall. The pumpkin patch offered publicity last year with their K-9-themed corn maze, helping raise money and donating for the NLPD’s newest recruit.
“They were a huge supporter of us,” Campbell said. “So for their fall festival, we’ll be out there as much as we can to support them, too.”
Falco’s also a surprisingly tech-savvy pooch, building a following on social media.
“He tweets almost every night while we’re working,” the officer said.
“We’re gonna do that throughout his whole life so people can see him grow and mature.”
The dependable K-9 will be two years old on March 15.