Ypsilanti K-9 unit officer: Every day I work with my best friend
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
Ypsilanti police officer Anthony Schembri's 12-hour shift usually begins at 6 every morning with him responding to a range of calls, some routine and others often more serious.
The one constant in his work though is his K-9 partner, Buky, who has been by his side every day for the past six years.
"It’s a good job," Schembri said. "You go to work every day with your best friend, you can’t beat that."
Buky's had quite the journey to Ypsilanti to become the department's only canine unit dog.
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
Schembri and Lt. Deric Gress, who oversees the K-9 unit, went to the Von der Haus Gill Canine Academy in Wapakoneta, Ohio to get a dog and settled on Buky. This specific academy produces dogs for local, state, federal and even agencies out of the country.
"We chose him because of his temperament," Gress said. "As canines go they have such high drives, but Buky is just a marshmallow when it comes to loving everyone."
Although he can be a friendly dog, both Gress and Schembri said when it's time to work, Buky is immediately ready to go.
"He's a hard worker and the only drug dog around here on a day shift, so I get called out a lot around the county," Schembri said.
Buky and Schrembri on average respond to about 120 calls per year from agencies all over Washtenaw County. Gress said about 40 percent of the calls are from outside of Ypsilanti since there is no other daytime unit within the county.
Schembri said the county has two dogs, one drug and explosives; the University of Michigan has two explosive detecting dogs and uses dogs from the Michigan State Police and other agencies during football games; and Ann Arbor has two drug dogs.
Earlier this month, Ypsilanti and Pittsfield Township announced plans to share the K-9 police patrol unit as part of a four-year partnership that will begin Jan. 1, 2013. In addition to K-9 unit work, Schembri continues to serve as a regular patrol cop.
"A lot of guys count on me if they make a traffic stop," Schembri said. "If something doesn’t seem right and they want to try and get in the car, but the occupants don’t give them the consent to search, they’ll call me over to see if the dog can get a hit. When the dog gets an alert on the car that gives us probable cause to search the car."
Buky is trained in criminal apprehension, tracking, building and area searches, narcotics and protection. Since he's trained in so many different areas, some of which are extremely dangerous, Buky has been in many high risk situations.
"I'm putting him out here basically to protect other officers," Schembri said. "I worry, but everything works out. That’s one thing you have to keep in mind —Â he’s a working dog. If I can save an officer’s life or someone else’s instead of his, that’s what I have to do. Obviously I’d be heartbroken because you get so attached to these dogs."
One of those close encounters happened last summer when Schembri and Buky assisted in a domestic violence incident.
"The husband had assaulted his wife throughout the night and savagely beat her," Schembri said. "He was drinking all night and threatened to burn the house down. He threatened to kill her and kill himself and burn the house down, so the county called."
When Schembri arrived on the scene, the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office alerted him that they needed him to send Buky inside of the house or a SWAT team would be assembled.
"The wife was able to escape and run next door," Schembri said. "They surrounded the house and he wouldn’t come out. The guy had a handgun and basically you look at yourself and say, do you make entry with the dog and jeopardize the dog’s life or do you have barricaded gunman in the house and have a SWAT situation."
Schembri sent Buky in.
"I said let's just run with it," Schembri said. "We searched the first floor and it was clear. We went up the stairs and right into the bathroom. Buky went in there and located the guy passed out. He had the handgun still in his grasp. We were able to take him into custody. The wife ended up being OK and he was sentenced to time."
Although that incident ended well, Schembri said it made him realize how quickly it could have gone south.
"It was just an incident where I realized later and thought, was that the right thing do do?" Schembri said. "Because he easily could have shot the dog."
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
When he's off duty, Buky goes home with Schembri and his family and lives life like a regular, family dog.
"At home I let him be what he wants," Schembri said. "He sleeps with me and he's a really mellow dog. I have children at home and he's good with the kids. When it's time to come to work, he starts knocking things over and making a big ruckus because when he comes here he knows he’s here to work."
In addition to being a police and family dog, Buky also regularly visits schools within Washtenaw County to give demonstrations to students, showing the work he does.
Gress said the department has only had one other dog, Thor, and that was some time in the 70s. Gress helped start the K-9 unit with the former police Chief Matt Harshberger, who is now public safety director of Pittsfield Township. Gress put himself through canine academy and spent a couple of years training.
"I couldn't wait any longer, I really wanted a canine unit here," Gress said. "What I like about dogs is they can smell four different odors simultaneously. ... Their hearing is more acute than ours."
On average, Gress said it costs about $10,000 to buy and train a dog, but the investment is returned relatively fast.
"The tool of a canine is, I don’t want to say imperative, but a great tool we can use to help the community solve the crimes that need to be solved," Gress said. "It's important work and it's work that can only help human officers because of their ability to find things much quicker. The speed and application, that's what helps us."
Buky's in his prime right now and around age 8 or 9, the department will evaluate him to see if he needs to be replaced, Gress said.
When Buky retires, he'll continue to live with Schembri and transition into being just a family dog. Schembri spent this Christmas on the job, but he was patrolling the streets with his best friend.
"He's in good shape and he'll stay working until his health declines," Schembri said. "He'll retire with me. ... The other day, one girl that trains over where Buky and I go, she said 'you love that dog. I can tell by the way you're looking at him.' He's a great dog."