by Anna Ferraro
“We’re best buddies,” said officer Scott Cleveland, the K-9 officer in the Jacksonville Police Department (JPD), as he ruffled the ears of his dog, Bo. “He lives at home with me. It’s like having another kid.” As he launched into discussing his job as a patrolman in the JPD, Cleveland spoke with passion, “I love my work. Every minute of every day is different. Not the same routine. I never know what’s going to happen.”
Since beginning work with the South Jacksonville Police force in 2004, Cleveland transitioned to working in the Morgan County Sheriff’s office in 2008. After another job shift to the Secretary of State Police crew, he landed in the Jacksonville Police Department in 2012 – and there, he has stayed. Initially, Cleveland said he had hopes of becoming a conservation officer, but after being in law enforcement, he shared, “I liked the work, and stuck with it.” He was particularly fascinated with the drug work involved in policing, especially when it involved dogs. He shares, “I love seeing the dog doing its thing.” Around 2014, Cleveland jumped at a chance to become the main handler for the dog for the JPD. And he got it. The K-9 in the department at the time became his professional property and their relationship began.
In their early days together, Cleveland chuckled to remember his initial feeling, “I was really nervous when I got him, he was a big dog and I didn’t want to get bit.” But as they progressed through 10 weeks of academy training together, things smoothed out. Now, Cleveland shares, “It’s basically every day that we’re doing something to bond and train together. Me playing with him and giving commands. Always something in there that’s developing our relationship and trust with each other.” In addition to his normal policing shifts, Cleveland has an extra 16 hours each month of training that he puts in to keep him and his dog up to policing par.
In the past, Cleveland had to travel to Pawnee or further to get the training and practice resources for him and his K-9. So, in June 2017, Cleveland approached the police chief and deputy chief with a request – he and Bo needed an obstacle course in Jacksonville where they could hone their skills together. But, would the department approve the project and would there be support? Cleveland shared, “It was there – they said if I could get it done, I had their full support.” And with that, Cleveland set to work, saying, “They gave me permission to seek donations from local businesses for supplies.”
Heading off to Buccheit and Home Depot, Cleveland found he was under friendly skies, especially at Buccheit, as they donated a large portion of the materials. Then, with piles of lumber in hand, and the official designs and dimensions in mind, Cleveland headed for home to find his girlfriend, Tiffany Gehrke, and his next job: teach girlfriend about power tools. Gehrke was all game, so Cleveland said with a smile, “I taught her how to use a saw and a nail gun.” Bo was watching the whole time – barking his distinguished K-9 head off at the power tools as they rumbled away noisily in Cleveland’s garage.
It only took a couple weekends to get the pieces of the course together, said Cleveland, and then came a big task – transferring and painting it all. In came the JPD’s Special Response Team with brushes and buckets. Cleveland winced, “We picked the hottest day of the year to paint.” But without the team, he acknowledged, “it would have taken me forever to paint them alone.”
Today, the course is up and running, and Cleveland shares, “It was absolutely, worth the effort and time – Bo and I are able to train here at home [in Jacksonville], instead of traveling to Pawnee – now, there’s enough here for us to work on obstacles locally. We also work in vacant buildings. And this course allows other departments to train here, as well.”
Best of all, Bo loves it. Apparently he knows that the obstacle course builds his fitness and prepares him for obstacles that he’ll see on the job. Cleveland explained, “The course is built similar to the K-9 state police academy, their obstacles, and it’s almost automatic for him to come and do it. He knows the course layout since he has been through the K-9 academy twice.”
Cleveland shared what it is like for Bo to work through the course, saying, “We just get out there, I let him run around a bit on his own. Then, we start with the hurdles, four of them, followed by a window frame cut out – he completes those. Then, he does a dog crawl – on a 4’ by 8’ platform that’s 16 inches off the ground that he crawls through. Then, he works his way to the stairs, maneuvering over those – one side is open steps, and the other side is boxed in – to give him different visuals and feelings. Once he does those, we move back to a dog crawl – then to a ladder up to a long platform – he actually lies down on the top of that, then he descends the ramp. It’s fun to see him leap an A-frame – that’s his place to show off – then he heads back to the platform where he’s rewarded with a tennis ball.”
In the future, Cleveland says, “I would like to see it expand – to possibly another large building for training, building searches, that sort of thing – also an area to move obstacles inside during the winter months – that would be ideal.”
In conclusion, Cleveland offered a huge and hearty thank you to those individuals who contributed to the project – the management at both Home Depot and Buchheit; his girlfriend, Tiffany Gerhke; and the JPD’s Special Response Team. He expressed multiple times and with deep gratitude, “This never would have happened without the generosity of those businesses and individuals – they truly deserve a lot of credit for this endeavor.” And with that … he was off – back to run the course with Bo. When Cleveland’s not policing or running courses with Bo, he can be found spending time with his two little daughters, hunting, fishing and building things … like K-9 obstacle courses.