WICKLIFFE, Ohio — After a decade without a K9 unit, the Wickliffe Police Department is in the process of reinstating one later this year. The long-awaited return of a police dog in the city is also the realization of a long-time dream for one Wickliffe patrolman.
“When I first got interviewed by my chief and my patrol commander, they asked me where I wanted to be in 5 years. And that’s what I told them is ‘I’d like to be a K9 handler,’” recalled Officer Nicholas Merrifield.
Wednesday, Merrifield and his girlfriend Natasha were finishing putting together a large kennel for the officer’s upcoming K9 partner.
“It still hasn’t really set in, I don’t think,” he laughed.
The former U.S. Marine served in Afghanistan before transitioning to law enforcement in 2011. Before starting at the Wickliffe Police Department, he worked several years with the Cleveland Division of Police and the North Randall Police Department.
The last Wickliffe K9 officer, Rex, retired from duty in 2012. The position was not refilled, partly because of the cost to purchase and train a new K9.
“There are tons of benefits of having the K9 that I think we’re missing out on by not having one,” Merrifield said.
Three years ago, he began researching costs, training and other necessary steps to reinstate the program at the department. City officials were in favor of the move, but could not fund the initial $70,000 startup costs.
This year, Merrifield was given the green light to begin publicly fundraising. With the help of the nonprofit ‘Sea of Blue, Lake County,’ he began approaching local businesses and hosting fundraising events to collect money.
By late June, the efforts had garnered nearly enough donations to cover the startup expenses. Club K9 in Wickliffe donated the supplies for the kennel at Merrifield’s home.
“That’s where the community and the businesses of Wickliffe really showed me how generous they are and how much they wanted this program,” Merrifield said.
The department has been able to purchase a new K9 police cruiser and much of the equipment needed to retrofit it for a K9 officer.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that we had the opportunity to try to get a K9. Officer Merrifield’s done a ton of work, fundraising and doing everything he can to get the funds so we can get all of the equipment and the money we need for training,” said Detective Sgt. James Coolick, who will supervise the K9 unit.
Sgt. Coolick and Merrifield agreed the addition of a K9 officer will be invaluable to the department.
“We have a lot of times when we need a K9 to sniff a car for us for narcotics or anything like that. The only way we can do that right now is we have to call another city. And hopefully, they have a dog working that can bring their dog to us. The issue with that is there’s not always a K9 working and sometimes they’re not available or they’re just too far away,” Merrifield said.
“It’ll be great that we’ll have one here available to us and be working here in the city,” Coolick added. “It’ll be a huge asset to have a K9 that’ll be able to track and locate suspects who have left, or just people that are missing or article searches. There’s a variety of uses that the K9 will be valuable to our department.”
The department also plans to use the K9 unit to help build community relations.
“It’s the social aspect of it - doing assemblies, doing events,” explained Merrifield. “It would have been nice to have a K9 there to do a demonstration, let the kids see the K9, all that kind of stuff.”
Merrifield is planning to select his K9 partner from Shallow Creek Kennels in Pennsylvania in mid-August. In September, he’ll begin 6 weeks of training. The pair should be ready to patrol in November.
The Wickliffe Police Department is still accepting donations for its K9 program. If you’d like to contribute, you can mail or drop off a tax-deductible donation to police headquarters located at 28730 Ridge Rd, Wickliffe, OH 44092.
For more information, contact Ptl. Nicholas Merrifield at NMerrifield@cityofwickliffe.com.
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