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WFPD adds teeth

Officer Pete Nielsen and Disco, a long-haired German shepherd, make up the brand new K-9 unit at the West Fargo Police Department. Carrie Snyder / Forum Communications Co.1 / 2
Officer Pete Nielsen plays with his partner, Disco, a long-haired German shepherd. Carrie Snyder / Forum Communications Co.2 / 2

His uniform is as black as the night. When on duty, his senses are sharp in order to protect his partner and fellow officers. He's trustworthy and, above all, loyal. In short, he is the embodiment of a lean, mean crime-fighting machine.

And his favorite thing in the entire world - the one thing that he would do absolutely anything for - is a green, squeaky tennis ball.

Disco, a two-year-old longhaired German shepherd, is the newest member of the West Fargo Police Department and the namesake for the city's first-ever K-9 Unit. Officer Pete Nielsen is Disco's handler and partner, and the driving force behind the WFPD's addition.

"I, along with the entire staff of the West Fargo PD and city commission, are excited to have a fulltime K-9 join our department," Chief of Police Arland Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen said the WFPD used to borrow K-9 units from the surrounding area, such as Fargo or Moorhead. Because of the city's burgeoning growth, however, the time was right for West Fargo to get its own cop-dog team.

"We have now grown large enough that more and more demands and needs are being noticed and requested,"

he said.

Nielsen, who has been with the WFPD since 1999, said he put in the request for a West Fargo K-9 unit more than two years ago. Now, dog and handler quickly are becoming acclimated to their new routine after less than a month on the job.

"He's a working-line police dog that wants to do police work," Nielsen said. "It's what he was bred to do."

Disco has accomplished much in his two short years of life. Originally born and raised in Slovakia, he was trained for a year in Europe before coming to the United States. Disco then spent more than eight months under the guidance of Master Trainer Paul Samuelson at North Iowa K-9, a training facility specializing in preparing dogs for law enforcement use.

That's when Nielsen came in. Besides learning how to handle Disco, he spent nearly two weeks in March just getting to know his new furry companion: feeding him, taking him for walks playing with him - and learning a new language.

"He only understands Czechoslovakian," Nielsen said. "All of his commands are in Czech."

While at North Iowa K-9, Disco became proficient in several areas. For starters, he learned how to apprehend perpetrators, Nielsen said, as well as search buildings for hidden subjects. Disco is able to sniff out evidence at a crime scene, such as a screw driver or weapon handled by an assailant. He's also trained to protect Nielsen and fellow police officers, at all costs.

"I have a button on my person at all times. All I have to do is press it and the door to my squad car opens and Disco knows to jump out and find me," he said.

Besides his physical abilities, Disco also possesses something else a bit less


"Psychological intimidation," Nielsen said. While suspects may think about fighting or fleeing with a gun pointed at them, a fiercely growling dog is a different story altogether.

"They bark and show their teeth. Most people know that dogs bite," Nielsen said. "Having a dog sends a very strong psychological signal."

Dogs are widely known for their amazing sense of smell, and Disco is no exception. Nielsen said he is trained to detect 10 different illegal drugs, and indicate to his handler when he's found them.

"Disco is a passive-alert dog, which means when he finds a source, he sits and stares at it or me," Nielsen said.

Evidence of the effectiveness of police K-9 units in Fargo came as recently as Thursday. A routine search by the Fargo Police Department's K-9 Unit at the Fargo South High School resulted in eight vehicles being hit on.

The WFPD is looking forward to utilizing Disco and, hopefully, help fund further training.

"Because of Disco's training in searching for drugs, we hope to be able to both take some additional drugs off the street, as well as seize drug assets that actually will help pay for Disco and his training," Rasmussen said.

Neilson said it is just a matter of time until Disco gets his chance for a bust. During the pair's regional certification with the United States Police Canine Association, Disco took third place out of 66 dogs. Nielsen said the certification needs to be renewed annually, so Disco will get a shot to better that score next April.

And when he does, Nielsen will give Disco his just reward: a squeaky Kong-brand tennis ball.

"He loves that thing," Nielsen said. "Yeah, he likes to play; he likes other toys. But he goes absolutely ballistic for his tennis ball."

Disco also has become a part of Nielsen's family. The dog's new surroundings include Pete Nielsen's wife, Pam, their three children, and a chocolate Labrador retriever. Yes, Disco is a good family pet, and "the kids think it's pretty cool," Nielsen said, but don't take his friendly, almost puppyish demeanor as weakness. All it takes is a simple command from Nielson and Disco is ready to rock and roll.

"It's like he has a switch. At home, he's just like any other dog. But when I start putting my uniform on in the morning, he gets amped up; he's ready to work. It's fun to them," Nielsen said.

For the WFPD, having Disco and Nielsen is just what it needed.

"Disco brings a new energy and excitement to the police department," Rasmussen said. "Teaming the right K-9 to the right handler is extremely important, and with Disco and Officer Nielsen, I think we have a winning combination."