WPD K-9 Unit welcomes Winston

Worthington Police Department Patrolman Jake Walker and Winston, the department's newest K-9 member, are partners on and off duty. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — The Worthington Police Department recently welcomed a new friendly face to the force.

Winston, the newest member of the department’s K-9 Unit, has been helping make the community and surrounding area a safer place since passing his certification training Friday in Minneapolis.

A 13-month-old purebred yellow lab, Winston brings a lot of high energy and drive to the

department, said Worthington Police Department Patrol Officer Jake Walker, who is Winston’s handler.

“He’s really personable, really friendly and likes people,” Walker said about his furry partner.

A trained and certified narcotic detection K-9, Winston assists Walker on patrol calls or their partners on the department — or in nearby counties — when requested.

When at a possible drug scene, if Winston detects drugs, he alerts his partner by changing the pattern of his breathing and sitting near its location. He is typically accurate within a foot, Walker said.

However, if outdoors and especially on windy days, Winston’s accuracy may be slightly skewed, Walker added.

Winston is rewarded for his hard work, usually with his ball — his favorite.

The positive reinforcement is not the only incentive Winston has to perform well. His job performance is also nurtured by a close bond and relationship with Walker, as the duo are partners both on and off duty. Winston gets to go home with Walker and the two decompress after a hard day’s work.

But when Winston hops in the patrol car, he knows it’s time to get to work.

The process to find another drug detection dog was set in motion more than a year ago when the department was notified of a gift from the Florence Nolte estate. The more than $19,000 donation from the late Ellsworth woman was to be used specifically for the Worthington Police Department K-9 Unit, said WPD Capt. Kevin Flynn.

Nolte passed away in October 2015 at age 93. She worked as a certified nurse’s aid at various nursing homes in the Worthington area.

“We’re very thankful to the Nolte family for the donation,” Flynn said.

Through North Iowa Canine in Fort Dodge, Iowa, the department located Winston from a North Dakota farm. Winston trained in Iowa for two to four months, Walker said, adding that near the end of Winston’s training, Walker joined and trained together with Winston so the two became familiar with one another and the expectations.

The recent addition of Winston brings the WPD K-9 Unit to a force of three. Between Winston and Walker, Frankie and handler Sgt. Dustin Romeling and Mack and handler Patrol Officer Mark Riley, the department is able to better schedule shifts in which at least one team is always on-duty, Walker said.

“If they’re not on duty, there is always one available,” he added.

The Nobles County Sheriff’s Office also has one drug detection dog on its K-9 Unit, Walker said.

Frankie, a Belgian Malinois, and Mack, a German Shepherd, are trained dual-purpose K-9s. In addition to narcotic detection, the two are also trained in apprehension of missing persons or suspects.

While his counterparts have additional training, Winston’s friendly demeanor assists the department by having a positive outreach with the community it serves.

“Stuff doesn’t always get shown in a good light when it comes to law enforcement, so it’s good to have that positive interaction in the community,” Walker said.

For instance, Winston got to greet some Prairie Elementary students Monday morning as they hopped off the bus. Helping the students kick off their week in a unique way was not only positive outreach, but that interaction is also beneficial for Winston, Walker said.

Those interactions aren’t the only way Winston becomes a better member.

Winston’s training is ongoing, Walker said. For example, Winston may spend 45 minutes to an hour training four days out of a six-day on-duty schedule, Walker said.

The training regime forces Walker to get creative in developing new simulations to keep Winston sharp and attuned to various drug search scenarios.

Walker enjoys the responsibility of being a first-time dog handler. In fact, the Round Lake native considers himself fortunate, adding that becoming a handler is typically based on a department’s needs and availability. Being on the department just three years makes him especially grateful for the opportunity, he said.

“It’s just another way to not only help my partners, but help the community as well,” said Walker about why he wanted to become a handler.

Walker’s excitement is echoed by the department.

“We’re excited to have (Winston) and he’ll be an asset to the department and the community,” Flynn said.