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Pup on patrol: EMU police welcome ‘awesome’ officer

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Officer Bridget Bofysil has a striking new partner to patrol Eastern Michigan University’s campus each week.

He’s a hard-working investigator who loves to meet students and staff at the Ypsilanti school, boost security there as well as pounce on what he was trained extensively to find: explosives or criminal evidence.

But Nitro’s usually on a leash, occasionally barks and earns rewards such as rubber balls or toys. He’s a 1-year-old Belgian Malinois — the first K-9 in the school’s Department of Public Safety.

“Having him is just awesome — seeing him go from just hanging out in the house and then him going to work and having such an important job,” said Bofysil, who has owned the pup since his birth. “I want him to be the best that he could possibly be. So we work really hard every day to make sure that whatever situation we face, he’ll be able to do a good job.”

Nitro started working at EMU last month and recently wrapped a five-week special training course with Bofysil focused on patrol and explosives detection, she said.

Bofysil, a Lansing native with a criminal justice degree who was in the Army Reserve and served in Iraq, joined EMU early last year, months after graduating from the Mid-Michigan Police Academy. Certified to work with canines in explosives detection, tracking and suspect apprehension, she has also handled dogs as a civilian security officer at a naval base in Florida and trained 10 assigned to her site in Afghanistan, EMU officials said.

Bofysil long had been interested in launching a program that allowed her to extend such efforts, so she submitted a proposal to EMU Police Chief Robert Heighes.

Adding a canine to the force enhances its capabilities, he said. “We live in changing times. Nitro is certainly another safety feature that we needed to have within the department.”

Law enforcement agencies often turn to the Malinois for their energy and productiveness, university officials said. The American Kennel Club describes the breed as “strong, agile, well muscled, alert and full of life” and “historically a herding dog and protector of farm and family ... .”

Nitro is constantly at his partner’s side — patrolling in a squad car, trotting between buildings, even accompanying her to deliver reports, she said. “He’s actively searching the whole time we’re walking. … He knows what his job is.”

The duties can involve serious situations. Since the pair is among only three explosive detection teams in Washtenaw County, authorities tap them when others aren’t available, Heighes said.

One night shortly after Nitro started the job, sheriff’s officials requested assistance while investigating a home invasion. Searching in a neighborhood, Bofysil recalls, “his harness went on and we were walking along, and he picked up a track and started following it and was tracking really good. Then I didn’t feel any tension on the leash anymore and it was pitch-black, so I didn’t know what he was doing. I shined my flashlight on him real quick and he was sitting on a piece of evidence. That’s what he was trained to do. It was super awesome seeing it actually happen in the real world, not just training.”

Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton also noted the work. Finding the property “laid the foundation for linking all three suspects to multiple crime locations,” he wrote in a letter of commendation this month.

“Please accept our grateful appreciation for the timely and effective assistance provided by Officer Bofysil and K9 Nitro. We’re pleased to have them as part of the county’s police service dog community.”

For now, the tan canine mainly paws around more familiar settings, including at events around EMU and elsewhere. He and Bofysil are slated to help out at the University of Michigan-Ohio State football game Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Besides his duties, EMU police hope to introduce Nitro and Bofysil at educational events, classes or meetings, Heighes said. “As we move forward we’ll learn more about where we can plug him in on a regular basis. It’s a great position to be in.”

So far, Nitro has adjusted well to his new role — wagging his tail whenever Bofysil commands him to greet those who cross their path.

“As far as I can tell, everyone is very open to them and glad to see them,” Heighes said. “It’s a great relationship-building for the department both on campus and off campus. He’s super friendly and we couldn’t have a dog on campus that wasn’t that way — eager to work and eager to make friends.”

The pooch loves his position so much, he rarely needs incentive to prep each day, Bofysil said. “As soon as I get dressed, I get my uniform on, he knows it’s time to go to work. So he gets all excited and goes to the door and he’s ready to go.”

mhicks@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2117