2016-03-24 / Front Page

Middletown Recruit Works Like a Dog

By Olga Enger


Officer David Guerriero stands with Luca, a 19-month-old Belgian Malinois who is the newest member of the Middletown Police Department. 
(Photo by Olga Enger) Officer David Guerriero stands with Luca, a 19-month-old Belgian Malinois who is the newest member of the Middletown Police Department. (Photo by Olga Enger) A year after a Middletown officer asked council to throw the town a bone by approving a new K-9 unit, a friendly, albeit furry, new recruit was officially sworn into the police department ranks.

“His drive is through the roof,” said Officer David Guerriero about Luca, a 19-month-old Belgian Malinois. Guerriero first pitched the K-9 department in 2014.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Guerriero. “The chief is always interested in expanding our department in a positive way.” Although the town had a K-9 department in the 1980s, the reason it was not continued is unknown.

Over a year after he first began his research, Guerriero stood proudly by Luca as the dog was sworn into the department’s newly re-established K-9 unit at a ceremony held March 21 at Middletown Town Hall.


Officer Guerriero and Luca at a recent event teaching about the duties of the K-9 unit, the Belgian Malinois breed and the training necessary for this specialized assignment. Officer Guerriero and Luca at a recent event teaching about the duties of the K-9 unit, the Belgian Malinois breed and the training necessary for this specialized assignment. When Guerriero made the initial presentation before council, the K-9 handler knew he would have to keep costs low in order to get a nod of approval.

“The average startup costs for a K-9 unit are between $45,000 and $50,000. Dave put a proposal together that would cost around $10,000, and we are below that because he has put so much work into it,” said Middletown Lt. Jason Ryan.

“I remember the day it was approved by Town Council well, because it was the same day my son was born. It was the July 6 meeting,” Guerriero laughed. “My wife needed the rest anyhow.”

Once approved, Guerriero’s next step was to find the right dog. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts with labs, the officer reached out to Matt Betts, of K9 Instincts in Portsmouth, for information.

Not only did Betts recommend the Belgian Malinois breed, but he also donated the dog, saving the department $8,500.

“We wanted to get a dog that is friendly. Luca was only 10 months. He was crazy, but I was able to mold him,” said Guerriero.

The next step was training, an effort which was donated by Steve Hauser at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. Every month, Luca and Guerriero spend 16 hours in training, exposing Luca to different circumstances that he may encounter on the job.

On Oct. 9, Luca was certified in narcotics detection and tracking by the North American Police Work Dogs Association. The pair is available to any department as needed.

“We are on-call 24 hours a day,” said Guerriero. “So far, Luca has assisted in 45 arrests and has helped find two missing people.”

Luca was trained by his fondness for a black, rubber PVC pipe.

“He will do anything for that toy,” said Guerriero. “That’s what you are looking for, that drive. Work is play. It’s a game. If he is tracking someone, he thinks he is looking for the toy.”

Guerriero added that the dog’s ability to track a person depends on factors such as wind and rain.

“As long as we are there within an hour, it depends on the environment.

We show up, throw on the tracking harness. He is trained to stay on scent,” said Guerriero.

Luca, who came from Holland, responds to Dutch commands, which protects the dog from fol- lowing unauthorized instructions from observers.

Although some dogs are trained to be aggressive, such as those who assist border patrol agents, Luca has been socialized to be a community officer as much as a work dog, said Guerriero.

“We recently took him to an Easter egg hunt at the high school and two-year-olds were petting him. He loved it.”

To accommodate his fourlegged partner, a cruiser was modified with a kennel, tinted windows and a fan to keep the car cool. It is also equipped with a temperature gauge that alerts Guerriero if it becomes too hot inside the car and kicks off the fan.

The donations toward Luca’s career didn’t stop with K9 Instincts or Hauser’s training.

“We just found out a company, Vested Interest in K9s, donated a bullet and stab protective vest for Luca,” Ryan said. He added that individual contributions have helped offset costs.

The first thing officers are taught in training is to prepare for the day when the dog retires from work. When asked how he would handle that day, Guerriero shook his head.

“I don’t know. I hope it’s not for many years,” said the officer.

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