Canine officer retires with partner

Former Manitowoc County police officer Joe Keil is only a few months into retirement, but he’s already looking towards the future.

After spending 27 years with the county police department, Keil retired this year with his former K-9 partner, Kilo. But despite retiring from the police force, his passion for serving the community and improving law enforcement throughout the country continues to drive him.

Keil now runs Operation R.U.S.H. — which stands for Recognizing and Understanding Substances on the Highways — a course designed to teach police officers how to recognize criminal activity during traffic stops.

In his time as an officer, Keil received extensive training in this field, becoming a Drug Recognition Expert through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and then a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor in 1996. He has given training at national conventions throughout the country, and instructs officers for the Multijurisdictional Counter Drug Task Force.

This training and teaching experience took Keil throughout the country, even giving him the opportunity to fly during the night patrol with the U.S. Border Patrol in Tuscon.

“I loved the job,” Keil said. “It was the greatest job, the greatest career ever. And I want to continue making it better, improving how we do things, for the guys who are still out there working every day.”

Outside of these opportunities, most of Keil’s experience was learned on the job as a canine handler in Manitowoc County. Keil was paired with two dogs throughout his time in the department. His first dog, Gus, became sick when he was six and passed away unexpectedly. Together, Keil and Gus had made thousands of drug arrests worth over $750,000 in seizures of controlled substances, vehicles and stolen money.

After a year, Keil was given a second K-9 partner, Kilo, who he worked with for 11 years. Keil and Kilo were matched together when Kilo was nine-months-old. Since then, the two have been inseparable. They went through the mandatory five week training school, which trained the pair on how to approach situations, follow scents and perform other important K-9 tasks involving narcotics tracking or search-and-rescue.

Then, they took to the field. Keil and Kilo worked the third shift, which meant they spent their nights together patrolling the community. Each day, after a quick run and exercise session, the two took to a squad car and patrolled the highways with a primary goal of stopping drug trafficking.

“It’s just you and your dog out there,” Keil said. “There’s a lot of trust and respect that forms between the two of you during that time.”

For Keil, most of his work in patrolling for drug trafficking and other crimes came from traffic stops. Highways are a typical thoroughfare for any type for any type of criminal, and often in making a traffic stop for another issue — such as erratic driving or speeding — an officer comes in contact with a person who has committed other crimes.

In his 19 years as a canine handler, Keil received six awards from the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Canine Handler Association. This included two K-9 Handler of the Year awards, once with Gus and once with Kilo. With this wealth of experience and success, Keil hopes that his extensive experience in the field can benefit law enforcement officers, new and experienced.

“There is no such thing as a ‘routine traffic stop,’” Keil said. “Every time you walk into one of these situations, you’re not quite sure what’s going to come out of it. That’s why I think it’s important for each of our officers to be trained to look at what’s going on and to be aware of these characteristics, because each situation is very different.”

This is what he hopes to accomplish with Operation R.U.S.H. Although he only retired recently, Keil is already booked for most of this year for speaking and teaching engagements for police officers, parents and high school students around the country. But while he hopes to continue to educate officers throughout the country, Keil is also enjoying his time off.

Now, he lives at home with his family — and Kilo. The dog was over 11-years-old when his partner retired, close enough to retirement and far too attached to his partner to stay in the department. And Keil couldn’t imagine a better way to retire than with his longtime partner.

“He’s not like a pet,” Keil said. “It’s so much stronger than that. We developed a real bond and I’m glad to have him with me still today.”