Fairbanks K-9 makes explosive debut in Interior Alaska

a police officer and K-9
University of Alaska Fairbanks Police Officer Jill Copeland and her partner, bomb-sniffing K-9 Yogi. (Dan Bross/KUAC)

There’s a new member of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Police Department: Yogi is an explosives detection dog.

Yogi is a 15-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever, and despite his vest and badge, he’s definitely not scary. His partner, UAF Police Officer Jill Copeland, says Yogi is different from the typical law enforcement K-9.

“He’s super friendly so he can be social,” Copeland said. “He does not apprehend suspects as far as biting or anything like that. He is strictly explosives detection at this point.”

Copeland says she worked with police dogs in the Lower 48 before joining the UAF department last summer.

“And so, I kinda brought it up to our chief here and asked if I could maybe write a proposal to start a program,” she said. “I think it’s super beneficial for the college, and I found out during my research that Interior Alaska does not have any other explosive dogs other than what’s in the military, and they’re not always available. So I came up with a proposal and we have a ton of support within the university and the community.”

Copeland says Yogi was purchased for $12,500 from K2 Solutions in North Carolina.

“And I actually used to work for that company, so I was familiar with how they train their dogs and it’s really solid, so that’s why I went with them,” she said. “But we went there and we picked him and we did all these tests with him. Test his drive which is, you know, his motivation to work and find things, and he just blew every other dog out of the water that I looked at.”

Copeland says Yogi knows the scent of a dozen explosive chemicals — but for him detection is a game. Copeland trained and certified with Yogi in North Carolina then brought him back in June to Fairbanks, where he made his public debut at the Midnight Sun Run. Copeland says Yogi can scan for explosives in a variety of circumstances on and off campus.

“We have a lot of dignitaries and researchers come in, and lots of events…runs, and I think since I’ve been here, we’ve had a couple suspicious packages,” she said. “And we just worked the Carlson Center, the Chris Young concert, so it’s like the more stuff we do, I hope people realize that we’re here as (a) resource for them.”

Copeland says she’s looking forward to the return of students who will have the opportunity to be involved in Yogi’s ongoing training, which will eventually also include tracking and search and rescue.

After less than two months together, Copeland and Yogi already have a strong bond at work and off-duty, when Yogi lives with her and her family.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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