Canine cop patrols Maitland community

Maitland Police officer Taylor Stitt and K-9 officer Bosco outside the city's police complex.

Maitland Police officer Taylor Stitt and K-9 officer Bosco outside the city's police complex.

Sarah Wilson

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It’s just before 7 p.m. on a Thursday night in October as Maitland’s night-shift police officers gather to get a briefing on the daytime events, and what’s ahead.

Two Baker Acts and a recovered laptop tally out the day shift totals, the officer leading the shift says. The Weather Channel, silently projected on the conference room wall, predicts warm, muggy conditions for tonight’s patrol. He says there’s a Muslim speaker at the Roth Jewish Community Center. They’re expecting a crowd.

“They want the K-9 to keep the peace,” he says. “And to give him some good practice.”

Orders given, Officer Taylor Stitt, the man in the back with “POLICE K-9” in bold across his uniform shirt, nods before gathering his things for his 10-hour shift.

“Stay alert, stay alive” is the leader’s last instructions before Stitt hits the road with his partner-against-crime.

Bosco, the Maitland Police Department’s newest patrol officer, and their only one with four legs, hits the ground running, Stitt in tow, on this, his seventh day patrolling the city’s streets.

A bathroom break, some audible slurps from his back-seat water bowl, a few excited whines and a two-mile drive later, and Bosco’s night begins.

“You ready?” Stitt asks. Leash on, over-sized ears alert and his eyes dilated in focus, the 2-year-old Dutch Shepherd beelines for the JCC building, and they’re off.

Top of his class

The pair hit the streets in Stitt’s new K-9-outfitted cop car in October after 600 hours of training and graduating at the top of their training class. Stitt, a seven-year veteran of the department and first-time handler, and Bosco, a headstrong Shepherd shipped in from Germany, are Maitland’s first K-9 team since the city’s last dog retired in 2009.

It’s taken months of obedience, narcotics and patrol training to get the pair on the road, which Stitt admits had its highs and lows. From two hospital trips for Stitt following slips of fingers and limbs being in the wrong places during training, to praise of Bosco being the best dog on the job that long-time handlers have seen in years, he says coming together as a K-9 team has been the most trying and rewarding thing he’s done in his life.

“This dog is so self-confident and so self-minded, as a first-time handler it was a struggle for me. … But he’s so loyal and so obedient, he just wants to please you, and it’s amazing to experience,” Stitt says.

The pair travels from home to work and back, never leaving each other’s sides. At home, Bosco is sitting, guarding the bathroom door while Stitt takes a shower, and at work he is never more than a door-opening button push away from his side.

“[Having the police dog] not only gives us the ability to search for missing persons and suspects by scent, which officers can’t do, but it significantly increases officer safety by having the dog on scene present,” Deputy Chief Bill McEachnie said.

Stitt says this has already proven true. When a criminal escaped Winter Park Hospital and hijacked the car of an 80-year-old man at gunpoint before crashing the car into a Maitland home in September, Bosco and Stitt were there to greet him as he tried to flee.

“When you see that guy hit the ground harder than he’s ever in his life… You can’t put a price on that,” Stitt said.

“After that, in my eyes, he’s already paid for himself,” Maitland Councilwoman Linda Frosch said, having had the scene recounted to her at a recent Council meeting. Bosco, his supplies and training were paid for through donations and forfeiture funds collected by the department.

For more information about the Maitland Police Department and K-9 program, visit itsmymaitland.com/PD

On the road

After a few walks of the perimeter of the JCC, Bosco’s nose to the ground smelling for anything that signals trouble, the crowd clears and any possible crisis is averted. The pair goes back on patrol.

There’s a pit stop for dinner at McDonald’s, Stitt feeding extra fries to Bosco through the fencing that separates the front and back seat. Soggy ones are left behind in the bag. “I wouldn’t even feed these to him,” Stitt says, wiggling a limp fry in the air.

The smell of fast food overpowers the slight smell of dog that permeates through the car. Stitt says the smell may be the cause of the sniffles afflicting him for the past week that they’ve been on the road together, but he says, “Even if I had a stuffy nose for the next 10 years, it’d still be worth it.”

Back on the road, as the car approaches an open grassy patch off Maitland Avenue, Bosco whines and wiggles in the backseat. He knows, Stitt says, when he gets here, it’s playtime.

The two pit stop for bathroom and play breaks every hour and half through the night to let Bosco blow off some steam if calls for his service aren’t coming in.

“The excitement for him comes from tracking down the bad guy,” Stitt says, but when bad guys aren’t available, his solid plastic tube toy that Stitt keeps in his trunk fills in, and Bosco goes to work.

Bosco’s marbled brown and black body tenses as he focuses every ounce of his 80-pound frame on the toy in Stitt’s hand. His ears go up, and his pupils fill his eyes. With a flick of a wrist, the toy goes flying, Bosco right behind. The dog thrashes the toy back and forth, as he’s trained to do to a criminal’s forearm when the time comes. Slobber covers the toy, and it wraps its way around his pointed snout.

The toy’s not alive or fighting back, but Bosco doesn’t stop until Stitt calls him back and he unwillingly gives up his plastic prey. That’s one thing Stitt says he can always count on Bosco for, to never give up.

“He’s not going to give up on the road,” Stitt says. “Having that drive, man, that’s special.”

Aside from his encounter with the prison escapee last month, most of Bosco’s on-the-job calls so far have been drug searches of vehicles. The pair gets a call to neighboring Eatonville, where cops there suspect drugs to be in an apprehended subject’s car.

Bosco darts to the car, circling it, his nose following cracks in door and windows, until he eventually sits next to the drivers’ side door, signaling a positive identification of narcotics.

A search reveals nothing, but, after questioning, the passenger in the car hands over a pipe with small indications of cocaine residue. A positive find. So far, Bosco had done eight searches, signaled four positives, which resulted in three finds. He got his first felony drug arrest last week.

By having Bosco on the road, Stitt says not only do officers feel safer when responding to calls, but residents can feel safer knowing he’s on patrol around town sniffing out bad guys, one call at a time.