Michael Martinez, Schuyler Police Department's newly graduated K-9 officer, took a path to the job he called "almost every officer's dream" from a fuel attendant at Hy-Vee to seven weeks of training in Lincoln.
Martinez moved to the community as a young Hispanic-American kid and said the area has changed quite a bit and the Hispanic population has gotten even bigger.
“It’s always been what I wanted to do was to be back in Schuyler. It still feels great to try and help the community,” Martinez said. “I’ve always told my family and friends it would be awesome to be a cop. Growing up, your life kind of flies by, so I didn’t take the steps I needed to right out of high school.”
Martinez said he worked at the Hy-Vee in Columbus for nine years and worked his way up to the meat department. But he realized he wasn’t getting any younger.
“I didn’t have any degree at the time. I went to college to get a criminal justice degree,” Martinez said. “Everybody told me I needed something, since I wasn’t in the military and I didn’t have much to go with, it would help so that they’re looking at all the applicants they can see I at least had something more than just a high school diploma.”
There has been a ton of challenges along the way.
“Before I even decided to go back to school I think I had three kids by then. Now, I have five. That put a little more work into just going to school and going to the academy and getting this done. You can’t just say I’ll be there,” he said. “To have my wife help out a lot so I that can go get that done is the biggest reason why I made it.”
He said it’s been hard work, but it’s worth it. Originally, he was certified in law enforcement in Polk County.
Martinez joined the Schuyler department in 2018 working the third shift and only recently took over the K-9 officer responsibility, working with SPD's K-9, Odin.
"When the opportunity presented itself I put my name in the hat and gave it a shot," Martinez said. "I didn’t know anything about what we were going to be expecting."
Schuyler Police Chief Robert Farber said Martinez has been an asset to the community and has a sense of Schuyler from growing up here.
“He takes policing very serious, is always trying to really make a difference and help the folks he’s come into contact with. He’s very thorough,” Farber said. “He cares deeply about narcotic investigations and prevention, having worked third shift he told me he really has seen a lot of the effects of drug abuse.”
Farber said Martinez believed that a drug prevention dog would be an asset to the department and could be used to hold people involved in drugs accountable.
“With the proper training and use of that tool that would be something that would be helpful in recovering illegal drugs and that would help us in ultimately getting people help that are involved in that sort of thing,” Farber said.
The dogs aren’t necessarily pets, he said, they are working dogs.
“The dog is integrated with the officer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the officer’s family in some cases," Farber noted. "You try to limit interaction because you don’t want dog to get too comfortable. It’s not a pet; it is a working dog. When the officer goes to work the dog goes to work. The dog is used to routine.”
The studying and training was intense, and it can be a challenge to balance all that with family and work. He traveled to Lincoln every day, went to classes and came back home, Farber said.
“He met those challenges head-on I was really impressed with his fortitude and attitude,” Farber said. “We are really proud of him and excited for him.”
The training works by capitalizing on the dog's basic instinct to hunt and then teaching the handler what to watch for from the dog.
"Instead of him hunting rabbits he’s hunting the odors of the drugs that we want him to find," he said. "So then after I know him a little bit I can know if he’s getting close. If I need to, I can help him pinpoint where it is. Dogs are going to smell the odor but they’re not going to look at every spot you might see."
Before the two can go out on the street, they have to test out. Odin and Martinez were graded separately on items like how well they react together and then they were also graded together. They passed and were certified.
Odin and Martinez have a strong relationship.
"I have to be able to know what he’s looking at and what he notices because if I don’t then I could miss what he’s trying to tell me," Martinez said. "It's awesome. Especially since he lives with me, we know each other better than I know most of my coworkers. He's basically my coworker. We rely on each other because we’re so close. It's pretty important that we both know each other. I need him to trust me like I trust him"
Odin lives with Martinez, which is awesome but a little nerve-racking. The community-funded the purchase of the dog, so he wants to make sure the dog to be utilized for work.
“He’s not even just a dog anymore, he’s my partner,” he said.
Odin was previously trained but went through it again with Martinez.
"The dog was helpful as well because he knew what to expect at the training. I feel like he helped me pass as much as I helped him pass, or even more," he said. "He already showed me from day one that he’d already been there and done that. So he was ready to go."
Most people don’t get into the K-9 department for a while, Martinez said.
“Most of the people I talk to its taken them at least 5 years to even be considered for a K-9 handler. I’ve just been blessed I got the opportunity when I did," he said. "You either jump on it or you get passed up and you won’t get it for a while longer.”
Carolyn Komatsoulis is a reporter for the Schuyler Sun. Reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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