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Eastpointe police welcome new K-9 unit

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published June 27, 2019

 K-9 unit partners Officer Robert McNeil and Ryder began duties with the Eastpointe police in June. Together they will aid in duties such as tracking, building searches and narcotics checks.

K-9 unit partners Officer Robert McNeil and Ryder began duties with the Eastpointe police in June. Together they will aid in duties such as tracking, building searches and narcotics checks.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

EASTPOINTE — The Eastpointe Department of Public Safety went to the dogs as it unveiled its new K-9 unit in June.

The unit consists of a specially trained dog named Ryder and a certified handler, Officer Robert McNeil.

“We’ve already been using the dog in the week or two he’s been with us on duty,” said Eastpointe Director of Public Safety George Rouhib. “He’ll be a wonderful tool and asset to the department. I think we’ll be seeing an increase in arrests, and he will greatly help us and neighboring departments with searches.”

Rouhib said that when dealing with a K-9, the animal will only be as effective as the handler, and he described McNeil as the perfect person for the job.

“This is my first time as a handler. I was on patrol and a SWAT operator before this,” said McNeil. “This is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid. It’s a lifelong dream.”

Rouhib said the department wanted to add a K-9 unit for some time, as it is a resource for a variety of policing duties.

“We can use him a lot for traffic stops if an officer believes there may be drugs hidden, we can utilize him for crowd control at events, he can track a suspect if they flee or can help find people with conditions like dementia who may wander off,” he said.

In addition to more official duties, Rouhib said K-9 units are a means of interacting with the people they police in a more friendly and casual way.

“We want to get the dog acclimated with his primary duties first, but after we do, we’ll bring him to the schools for the kids to meet, we’ll bring him to the neighborhood watch meetings and so forth,” he said. “A K-9 officer is a great resource, but also is a great way to interact with the public.”

McNeil described the rigorous training both he and Ryder had to go through to become certified as a K-9 unit.

“He’s certified in tracking, building searches, area searches, narcotics searches, handler protection and aggression — that’s where he will help apprehend a suspect,” McNeil explained.

The training course took place over seven weeks, with training being performed Mondays through Fridays. Ryder graduated at the top of his class.

“He was born in January of 2018,” said McNeil. “In April, I went to Pennsylvania to select the dog. He was preserviced for four weeks to get the basics of his training done. Then we do the seven weeks of training together. We do things like practice searches, investigate buildings or areas together or tracking people together. … It’s as much to teach us to work together as it is to train Ryder.”

In addition to the standards Ryder had to meet, McNeil too had to prove he was able and willing to perform the responsibilities that go along with being in charge of a K-9 like Ryder.

“The requirements are you had to have so many years with the department, you have to live within a certain distance of the station, you have to be able to have a fully fenced-in area in your backyard for the dog, and you have to be on call 24/7,” McNeil said. “It means a lot of dedication. It’s not for everyone.”

McNeil added that he is glad to be on patrol with Ryder and is looking forward to being able to do some good with his new partner.

“I’m interested in doing some tracking,” he remarked. “There’s nothing like it. It’s amazing to see a dog work in that way.”