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Snooping Doggie Dogg: On the beat with a canine cop 

click to enlarge Officer Tom Radford and Stoney - JORDAN SILVERMAN
  • Jordan Silverman
  • Officer Tom Radford and Stoney
Getting out of my car in the Burlington Police Department parking lot, I soon discover Stoney, the resident drug-detection dog. It’s July 3, the middle of a four-day heat wave. It’s only 8:10 a.m. but already hot and muggy enough to bring out the beast in anyone who lacks the savage-soothing comfort of air conditioning.

Stoney is not a happy camper. Though the squad car is running and the AC is cranked, the 4-year-old German Shepherd is causing quite a commotion and there’s just no consoling him. I’m here to ride along with Stoney and his human partner, Officer Tom Radford, to get a brief dog’s-eye view of life on the local beat.

8:15 a.m.

Radford emerges from the station immediately after the daily morning meeting. “We’ve already got a call,” he says, sounding a little surprised… but not really. “It looks like it might be one of those days.”

Off we go to St. Paul Street, where someone has called to complain about a man who’s walking around a convenience store with his pants down. Stoney will have to wait this one out. This is often the case, but this morning it’s clearly not sitting well with him. He spends the entire five-minute wait in the store’s parking lot barking and whining. His behavior, surprisingly similar to that of my own occasionally ill-mannered mongrel, shatters my notions of a cop-dog’s stoic and disciplined demeanor. “Some days he’s quiet,” Radford says of his temperamental companion as we head back to the car. “Other days, he’s just whining the whole time.”

Stoney was 2 in March 2000, when an elderly Lunenburg woman, finding the dog too rambunctious, donated him to the BPD. “He was very, very high-strung and had no obedience,” Radford explains. “He’s come a long way, but he’s still not perfect. He’s definitely high-energy, which is good for this job.”

Believe it or not, Stoney actually came with the name. He’s one of more than 15,000 canine cops taking a bite out of crime nationwide. Thirty dogs are currently on patrol in Vermont, two in Burlington. After graduating from the six-week Basic Canine Drug Detection School in April 2000, Stoney became certified to sniff out marijuana, hashish, cocaine, crack and heroin, as well as drug paraphernalia and “tainted/contaminated monies.” Since then, he’s conducted close to 400 on-duty searches, digging up more than 150 pounds of pot, two ounces of coke, a half-ounce of heroin and more than $96,000 in “dirty” money.

Last summer, the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Coun-cil named Stoney and Officer Radford, 35, the state’s “K-9 Drug Detection Team of the Year.”

8:30 a.m.

A call comes over the car radio. This time it’s from Pine Street, where a man on foot has been attempting to steal air conditioners out of apartment windows and is now being chased down Maple by his first victim. “It’s going to be a crazy day,” says Radford.

We’re just there to talk to a woman whose unit proved too tough to remove, so once again Stoney isn’t needed. And again he’s voicing his displeasure. “He’s really worked up,” says Radford. “Stoney doesn’t like it when he gets too hot.”

Though his services will prove not to be needed on this sweltering day, Stoney’s human sidekick says that the pup usually stays busy, playing an integral part in the BPD’s “aggressive” and “proactive” approach to drug enforcement. “We use him a lot,” Radford says. “He has a great reputation for doing drug work.”

Stoney will soon add tracking, building searches and protective work to his resume — skills he’ll acquire during a 14-week stint at the Vermont Police Academy’s Basic Canine Patrol School in Pittsford. Obedience and agility will be on the agenda two days a week for the first four weeks, followed by 10 intense, five-day weeks of tracking and protection. “It’s a new challenge for me and for Stoney,” Radford notes. After graduating in late November, Stoney will officially be cross-trained to do both drug and patrol work, as are most of the deputized dogs throughout the state.

9:20 a.m.

Back at the station, where Stoney finally gets released for a little walk down the hill, we get another call. An unattended 5-year-old boy is walking around South Winooski Avenue wielding a good-sized steak knife. The heat and humidity are almost as overwhelming as the smell of urine at the back of the kid’s house. Back in the car, Stoney is slightly less agitated than before, temporarily assuaged, perhaps, by his recent bladder relief.

Stoney isn’t just Radford’s work partner; he’s also a part of his family, heading home with his two-legged buddy for some quality time after their four weekly shifts together. Their three-day weekends usually leave the Shepherd “really wound up” on Mondays, says Radford. Stoney, who likes to splash around in Lake Champlain whenever he gets a chance, is also quite popular with Radford’s wife and kids. “He’s a great family dog,” the officer confirms, adding that Stoney even “gets along great” with the family cat and is “dog- and people-friendly,” too.

9:50 a.m.

It’s off to Oakledge Park for another walk and some daily training. Officer Radford, sweating in his thick, dark-blue cotton uniform, doesn’t expect much from his canine companion under the punishing sun. “Right now, we’re just working on basic stuff like obedience,” he says as he runs Stoney through a series of exercises. “He’s about 60 percent where I want him to be. It’s a daily thing. It’s not formal training and I’m not an expert.”

Radford says he tries to take Stoney for a walk every hour, usually at Oakledge, which serves as a convenient stop on their South End beat. “Just having a canine is a lot of work,” he admits. “With every search, there’s a lot of added paperwork.” Still, Radford says he truly enjoys the job. “There’s never a shortage of things happening,” he says. “Every day, you see something new.”

10:35 a.m.

After stopping for a cup of coffee on Pine Street — where Stoney goes ballistic over a passing Border Collie — we get a call for an “untimely” on Spruce Street. “It’s a dead person,” Radford explains, answering my nervous inquiry. “When somebody dies, we’re mandated to investigate it.”

The upstairs room is brutally hot, and the deceased is dressed for fall weather. It’s not even noon yet and the heat has already claimed a victim. The two-hour inquiry this death will require cuts short my journey with the dynamic drug duo. “I guess it’s been a pretty average summer day so far,” Radford says, almost apologetic that it has to end.

As I leave the building and head toward another officer’s car for my ride back to the station, I stop by Radford’s vehicle to bid Stoney farewell. The dog has been barking his head off, but the heat is finally beginning to defeat him, too. After a couple last whimpers, he slumps back down behind the black-tinted windows, panting hard but ready to roll.

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