A Bellevue police dog, Ozzy, gets a custom-fitted bulletproof vest courtesy of the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation.
Last week, when two mail-theft suspects ditched a stolen car and ran from police, one of Bellevue’s newest officers was called to track them down.
In nine months on the job, K-9 officer Ozzy has apprehended 11 suspects.
The 95-pound German shepherd was at Bellevue City Hall on Thursday, showing off his new Kevlar, bullet-resistant vest, before an admiring crowd of city employees and media.
Ozzy was the only one of three Bellevue police dogs without a protective vest. Lt. Andrew Popochock, who supervises the K-9 unit for the Bellevue Police Department, said that the dogs often are sent into high-risk situations with suspects armed with knives or guns. They also train with Bellevue’s SWAT team.
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“Just like we want protection for our officers, dogs need protection as well,” he said. Ozzy’s vest was constructed of the same materials as police protective vests and was custom-fit to the dog.
Straps and buckles keep the vest secure, but still allow for movement. Ozzy had to reach 2 years old before it could be certain he wouldn’t outgrow the vest.
Popochock said police dogs and their handlers receive more than 400 hours of training, learning obedience, bite work, tracking, locating evidence and how to tell which scent is fresh at a crime scene.
The $2,400 vest was purchased with a grant from the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation and the Bellevue Police Foundation. Roethlisberger is well-known to Seahawks fans as the quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers who — with a little help from the referees — dashed Seattle’s first Super Bowl bid in 2006.
Since 2007, the Roethlisberger Foundation has given grants to police- and fire-department K-9 units each year in the Pittsburgh area and in cities where the Steelers play away games.
Last November, a few days before the Seahawks-Steelers game (Seattle beat the Steelers 39-30), the foundation announced awards to the Bellevue and Renton K-9 units.
“Ben is a big dog fan,” Popochock said. ”He’s done a lot of good in communities around the country and a lot of good for police dogs.” As far as the Super Bowl loss in 2006, he said, “We’re over that.”
Officer Ben Bradley, Ozzy’s handler, said that at home the big dog acts like a playful puppy. In an appearance on a local TV talk show, he said, Ozzy kept sneaking onto the couch.
But on the job, Bradley said, he’s focused and ready to work.
During the pursuit of the mail thieves last week, the criminals had a 15-minute head start on Ozzy. It took the dog just five minutes to find them in a stand of woods. Bradley said he shouted that the dog would bite unless the suspects turned themselves in.
They walked out with their hands raised, Bradley and Ozzy following behind.