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Canine ‘Jerry Lee’ introduced to deputies

Chris Buchanan

1 Canine1

Jerry Lee, left, spends some time getting to know his new partner in crime – fighting – Mark Gibson outside Brantley County Sheriff’s Office, Friday. While visiting Lee also showed off some of what he’s already learned before heading back for more training in Alabama. Lee will be the department’s first canine unit. (Photo by Chris Buchanan)

At 91 pounds, Jerry Lee will be the smallest officer in the history of the force when he joins the Brantley County Sheriff’s Office later this year.

But criminals on the lamb shouldn’t let his size fool them because he’s also the fastest on foot and good at sniffing out crime.

That’s because Jerry Lee is a 16 month old German Shepherd that the department hopes will play a major role in catching criminals in the county in the years to come in drug busts, tracking criminals and even apprehension.

“They call him a patrol dog, it kind of covers all the bases,” Sheriff Jack Whisenant said. “And in some cases where we have somebody that will run from us, the German Shepherd will be with his assigned handler on the job during the day and if somebody runs then he’ll be right there to track.”

Lee will tentatively take his position alongside his partner Deputy Mark Gibson in January according to Whisenant who brought him to Brantley for a brief visit from his extensive training in Alabama.

“[Gibson] has been with us in Brantley County for several years and  had been in law enforcement for a while,” Whisenant said. “He shows a love for the dog; a passion for the canine work and he’s in well-enough shape to keep up with the dog.”

Whisenant said that the young canine is already on his way with only a month of training under his belt.

According to a trainer from K9 Specialty Services of Alabama, Jerry Lee started out life as a family dog that was donated to the program but the young pup showed just what he was capable of already during the demonstration Friday where he was able to sniff out planted drugs and other items.  The soon-to-be officer also showed off some of his takedown skills on a deputy from a neighboring county – who was wearing a specialized padded sleeve at the time.

At nearly 100 pounds relatively early in life, Lee is already large for his breed and is expected to grow to 120 pounds as he gets older. The young canine already has a commanding presence and is more than large enough to take down a full grown perpetrator with Lee being 30 inches tall at the shoulder.

Whisenant said he hopes the dog’s size will be as much a deterrent to crime as the dog’s actual skills though those won’t be lacking either.

If a person decides to give chase, however, the introduction of Lee to the force will mean a more immediate canine response compared to waiting for neighboring counties’ canine units to respond.

“Response time is the biggest thing,” Whisenant said. “Ware C.I. [Correctional Institute] has always been real gracious about letting us use their dogs; they’ll come and help us with drugs or tracking either one, but the time it takes them to saddle up and get here from wherever they might be [can take] 30 minutes, 45 minutes an hour.”

Whisenant said that this works well if the department is able to set up a perimeter to keep the criminal in check, but with the landscape of Brantley County, keeping a strong guard line isn’t always possible.

“If we have a dog there within minutes, it lessens the chase,” he said.

That response time is also useful if an officer suspects drugs in a traffic stop since Lee’s nose can lead to probably cause for a search.  That could mean more drug arrests and the utilization of more traffic checkpoints in the future.

Lee will also be useful in-house for the Brantley County Jail, Whisenant said.

“[Lee] will be a big asset,” the sheriff said. “If we have a jail riot and we have to go in a pod with 20 inmates that are fighting, it will take one dog to put them all on the wall where it might take 10 guys to break up a fight.”

Whether it be in the woods, on the road or in the jail Lee’s ready to take a bite out of crime in Brantley.

But Whisenant cautions anyone being trailed by the young deputy not to fight back when he eventually does catch them. Because as a deputized canine, attacking Lee would not only be unwise, it would carry with it the penalty of attacking a law enforcement officer.

Despite having the ability to take on the criminal element in the county, Lee has been described as a very social dog and Whisenant said he hopes to have him coming to the schools and several other county events to meet the public once he takes office in January.

The sheriff’s office is also considering the inclusion of two bloodhounds in the canine unit that will help with tracking those who decide to run in the county but for now Lee is the only planned fully-fledged patrol dog on the force.

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