Oak Park Police Department's newest member is a Trooper

K9 Officer Nat Leitl has a new four-legged partner. The two will head to training next week

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By Devin Rose

Staff Reporter

In a few days, the newest officer on the Oak Park Police Department will head to Michigan to begin five weeks of training that will prepare him to start his job strong come April.

He's a lot younger and smaller than the rest of the department's staff, but that won't stop him from learning how to seek out drugs from the cars and homes of suspected offenders, or how to stay on the trail of a missing person.

The "officer" is 10-month-old Trooper, a 50-pound Belgian Malinois from Austria. He's the first police dog the department has had in about 15 years.

"He's getting used to city life," said K9 Officer Nat Leitl, who has spent the last week getting to know his new housemate and partner. He's a little timid, Leitl said, as the dog scurried around one room in the police department this week, sniffing all the objects and people inside. But he's so full of energy that the two have been walking five to six miles everyday.

"I can't wait to go to training with him because it'll give him something to do," Leitl said.

The majority of the work Trooper will do involves his nose. In training, he'll learn how to detect drugs—cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine and ecstasy—and will eventually perform that task for the West Suburban Directed Gang Enforcement, or WEDGE. He will also be used to track missing people and offenders that police are pursuing, like suspected armed robbers that flee on foot.

Deputy Chief Anthony Ambrose said WEDGE has been using dogs from Berwyn and Forest Park in other drug cases, "so we figured that having our own dog would certainly help." Trooper will also be able to assist an officer the department has assigned to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Ambrose said. Next week, the department will get a specialized vehicle for Trooper with a cage in the backseat and an alarm that goes off if the car gets too hot.

The training will be a lot of obedience work, which will help Leitl and Trooper build trust with each other. Trooper will be taught to protect Leitl, and he won't be afraid to bite if given the command. It's also important to socialize him, Leitl said, so that he bites who Leitl wants and not who he wants. To the dog, the biting will be just like playtime.

Since he's had a couple months of pre-training mostly in scent imprinting, Trooper is a little ahead of the game. He's smart, Leitl said, and that runs in the family. Trooper's dad is part of a sport ring in Europe, and his mom is in Somalia sniffing out bombs for a private contractor.

At Leitl's Oak Park home, Trooper stays in his crate at night or when Leitl is away. He gets a lot of praise when he does something right, or Leitl will toss him a red rubber toy called a kong. He's not allowed other toys or treats, but he loves to play with Leitl's fiancée's Yorkiepoo. During his week with Leitl, Trooper has made a few trips to the police station. He also recently visited the Green Line el platform to get used to the people and trains.

If Trooper stays healthy, he'll be able to work for the department up to 10 years. But for now, before the serious work, Leitl said he's still curiously chewing some things around the house.

"He's going through the puppy phase," Leitl said.

Reader Comments

11 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Joe Woodall from Winter Haven, FL  

Posted: March 12th, 2012 1:22 PM

What a great team they will make as they grow together and many prople will be very proud of them.

Stephanie from Oak Park  

Posted: March 5th, 2012 1:11 PM

Great working dog! Love that there is going to be a K9 unit in OP. He will be worth his weight in gold. Agree about the protective vest.

John Murphy from Naples Florida  

Posted: March 4th, 2012 2:17 PM

Great going!!! It's good to see a progressive department about to take another bite out of crime!! I am sure Nat will continue to prove his value to the department and community with his new partner. Way to go Oak Park!!

JH from Oak Park from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2012 10:22 AM

Congratulations!!! What a great addition. Thanks for keeping us informed.

Happy OPer  

Posted: March 1st, 2012 4:39 PM

Thank you for keeping use residents safe from all the craziness that at times comes close to, or at, home. Another added officer is certainly a big welcome, especially one that can sniff out criminals.

Matt Leitl from Amherst  

Posted: March 1st, 2012 1:43 PM

Beautiful dog! Keep up the good work Nat!

OP Resident  

Posted: March 1st, 2012 9:13 AM

Can he be trained to sniff out ineptitude in Village Hall?

Colors  

Posted: March 1st, 2012 8:34 AM

Will he be full time at McDonalds in OP and Thortons in FP?

Street Justice  

Posted: March 1st, 2012 6:36 AM

Great addition to the department! Very exciting. Could not have asked for a better officer than Leitl to be paired up with Trooper. They are going to do a lot of good in our community.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: February 29th, 2012 11:54 PM

He will serve his partner well, so make sure to get Trooper a vest to protect him.

Res  

Posted: February 29th, 2012 10:12 PM

Awesome! This is what we need considering the amount of drugs across the border, entering Oak Park, and the amount of drugs that's probably transported through Oak Park on a regular basis. Put more pressure on, and make life difficult for these gangs, so we can counter the negative effects of Emanuel's and Macarthy's goal to push gang's outside of their geographic responsibility, and into our village. I hope OPPD grows into the monster that these thugs fear to cross.

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