MUNSTER | Django bounds out of his temporary outdoor crate, tail wagging, tongue hanging out of his large mouth and this huge feet barely touching the ground when he sees his constant companion, Officer Brian Hernandez.
But a command uttered by Hernandez brings the 2-year-old black Belgian Malinois to a halt and to a sit. Although the shepherd dog still displays puppy-like qualities, Django is half of the Munster Police Department’s first K-9 unit in its 57-year history, and considered a police professional.
“He’s a huge valuable tool,” said Hernandez, 27, of Munster, who was selected as the department’s K-9 officer after an application process. “He’s trained in narcotics detection, tracking and patrol. He can track lost people and suspects.”
Like Hernandez, Django also has his own ballistic vest.
The duo paired up in July at Vonliche Kennels outside Lafayette and went through six weeks of intensive training there.
“Vonliche Kennels has trained police and military service dogs for over 5,000 law enforcement and government agencies,” Munster Police Chief Steve Scheckel said.
Those agencies include the National Security Agency, Pentagon police, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Army and more than 500 civilian and police agencies.
Hernandez said the K-9 unit has been on the Munster police force’s radar since Scheckel became chief about two years ago.
“The K-9 unit was within the chief’s five- to 10-year plan.” Hernandez said. “This unit would not have been possible without the help of donations received from local businesses, residents and social groups. Large donations came from the Munster Rotary Club, the Munster Lions Club and Enbridge.”
Donations have been used to purchase Django, train Hernandez and the dog, purchase and outfit the patrol car and provide additional equipment, training and even food. Django’s veterinary care is being provided by Dr. Won Han of the Munster Animal Hospital.
“Django lives with me. He’s lived with me since we were paired up at Vonliche. Sometimes it feels like we still butt heads,” said Hernandez as the dog played on the grass outside the police station and wound his leash around a light post.
That leash is always on the 75-pound dog when he and Hernandez are working. Training is a constant part of their teamwork, Hernandez said.
“We use vehicles where we can hide drugs to continue his training,” Hernandez said.
That ability to detect hidden narcotics can be used during drug sweeps requested by school administration and during traffic stops.
If Django alerts to the smell of drugs in a vehicle during a traffic stop that provides probable cause for police officers to conduct a search, Hernandez said. The two work eight-hour shifts but can be called out anytime as needed.
Hernandez and Django work with the Northwest Indiana SWAT team and will respond to other local police department’s calls if needed.
“We’ve already worked with Lansing police,” Hernandez said.
Django’ very presence is a crime deterrent, the officer said.
The 2012 Chevrolet Caprice is specially outfitted for Django’s safety.
“The rear seat is out and a built-in kennel is in its place It’s climate controlled. There’s a thermometer in the back and if it gets too warm, the windows drop down automatically,” Hernandez said.