Bethel Police Department has new K-9 Unit
Rural Alaska has not been left out of the epidemic of deaths and medical emergencies caused by the opioid epidemic. Many street drugs these days are adulterated with doses of the extremely potent opioid fentanyl, which is easily smuggled because there is no need to transport more than a tiny amount of the drug. First responders and law enforcement are struggling to keep up, but the Bethel Police Department has a new tool. Bethel residents may have already seen the canine officer on a short leash.
“Sergeant William Charles is our canine officer. Well, he’s a canine handler. The canine officer is actually Zeus, who is a two-year-old German Shepherd,” Hicks said.
Chief Leonard “Pete” Hicks introduced the dynamic duo at Bethel City Hall during the last city council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12.
According to Hicks, this is the police department’s first canine officer. Officer Zeus arrived Saturday, Sept. 9, after graduating from the Kip K-9 Academy in Lincoln, Alabama.
Hicks said that Zeus is smart and a very good dog that is eager to work. “Sergeant Charles is a natural. We’re confident that he will be able to do pretty good things with dogs. And hopefully he will help us make a difference out here,” Hicks said.
Officer Zeus hails from Georgia and is trained to do multiple things.
“He's a dual purpose dog. Zeus is trained to do narcotics detection, so he'll be used for that as well. He's also trained to do tracking, so he can help with search and rescue and prisoner apprehension if someone takes off on us. You know, he can help track him down. He's not a bite dog. So he doesn't, he's not trained to bite people. But he is trained to sniff them out for us,” Hicks said.
According to the Alaska Department of Public Health website, from June 2022 to May 2023 there were 220 opioid overdose deaths in Alaska. Just this past August there were 97 opioid-related emergency room visits and 291 all drug-related visits.
Hicks has also seen an increase in reported meth usage, as well as heroin and fentanyl overdose cases in Bethel. So Zeus has his work cut out for him.
“He will work his regular rotation, his regular shift. But then he will also be on call to assist the department or any other agencies that may request assistance from us for either narcotics, or tracking, or however else we can help them with that with the dog,” Hicks said.
Hicks understands the impulse to interact with a police dog but wants people in the community to be patient and follow protocol.
“When you see them, give them time to get used to the area and the environment, you know. Don't just run up and grab him. You know, if you want to meet the dog, talk to the handler first. And let him facilitate that way so you don't spook him while he's adjusting to the new environment,” Hicks said.
Zeus and his handler Charles will be partners for life. The bond is important and builds trust. Hicks believes that this new addition will make a difference in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.