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Fishers officer trains new K-9 two years after Harlej was killed in line of duty

Posted at 7:40 AM, Mar 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-04 08:54:11-05

FISHERS — It's been more than two years since Fishers Police Department K-9 Officer Harlej was killed in the line of duty in November 2019.

Since that time, Officer Jarred Koopman has worked with his new K9, Rico.

K-9 Rico follows Dutch commands, enjoys long car rides, playing tug and tennis balls.

“We're going to play a little tug, but for me I'm also working obedience so I'm allowing him to have fun, and his little doggie brain he doesn't realize that he's in training. He thinks oh, man, this is great. I just gotta have fun with dad,” said Koopman.

But when it comes to being a K-9 duo, it’s not all fun and games.

“When you always see a K-9 handler you think, oh, that can't be that hard, but then when you actually get a dog, you realize the fluidity. You need to have it with a dog and the bonding is the biggest thing that you need to build that partnership with the dog and the trust,” Koopman said.

RELATED | Two years later, Fishers K-9 Harlej's impact continues | K-9 officer Harlej killed during manhunt in Fishers was first line-of-duty death for department | Fishers police officer and wife pen tributes to fallen K-9 partner, Harlej

So, what does it take to be a K9 officer? First, you must go through an intense six-week training.

“It is everything from their drug work to their bite work to their tracking, so it's an intense course,” Koopman said.

He said it's more than dog-to-handler obedience, he also has to watch every move Rico makes.

“The only way we can communicate with animals is through body language and seeing what they're doing and us being able to speak for them," Koopman said.

And when they’re out on a call, Koopman has to keep a lot of things in mind.

“I want to make sure that I'm safe as well as he's in the best position to be successful and in the community as well, so I have to take all of that into consideration," Koopman said. "So I always say to be a K-9 handler, you have to be able to quickly think on your feet, stay calm, be patient because I have to be able to figure out what works best for him and I have to think about everybody involved in this situation."

Of course, there is a big financial cost that comes with having a K-9 officer. The initial cost to purchase and send the new handler and the K-9 through school and training is about $15,000-$20,000.

The costs of dog food and yearly vet appointments also add up.

A lot of the annual cost is just the time the department pays the handlers to maintain training and certifications for both handlers and the dogs.

They have to train a minimum of 16 hours a month so a lot of time and energy is put into both the handler and the K-9.