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Meet Dickinson PD's new officer

Dickinson Police Officer John Hiltunen is getting acquainted with his new partner, K-9 Officer Samson, pictured Wednesday at the Law Enforcement Center in DIckinson.

Eager to please and full of energy, the newest Dickinson Police Department officer is a friendly chocolate Labrador named Samson. But look out lawbreakers, he's a nightmare for drug traffickers.

DPD Officer John Hiltunen has been working with Samson for about three weeks, becoming the narcotics-detecting canine's handler.

Stark County Sheriff's Office Deputy Jason Wallace will also be training to become a canine handler.

"We're right along I-94, which is a pipeline for narcotics, so it is important for us to try to keep those out of our area," he said.

Area officers say narcotics in the area are on the rise.

Hiltunen and Samson are bonding and once the two are better acquainted, they will begin training to find narcotics.

"He brings him to work to get him acclimated to coming into the police department and knows who he's going to be working with," DPD Capt. Joe Cianni said.

Hiltunen and 2-year-old Samson are scheduled to be a certified team in May, Cianni said.

"Everyone knows the effect that drug use can have on a community and I think having a dog is one of the best ways to get narcotics off the street," Hiltunen said. "It's easy to hide stuff in a vehicle and a dog is very good at letting you know, 'Hey, there's something in that vehicle and you need to check it out.'"

For now, Samson is visiting schools, Hiltunen said.

"He works wonders with kids," Hiltunen said. "Kids can kind of be intimidated by police officers and it's one way to get them to understand that, hey, we're friendly."

Hiltunen is a transplant from Melrose, Minn., who joined DPD in December 2010.

"In the PD, you know we all share a common bond because we have the same occupation and same goals," he said. "But you become really, really close with your partner and I think he's the most loyal partner you're ever going to come across."

When Wallace is finished with basic training in about six weeks, he will begin training with Lunar, the office's narcotics-sniffing dog.

"It's an opportunity in our department to move forward and it's an exciting opportunity to do something new and difficult," Wallace said.

He joined the SCSO in October. Lunar is a 7-year-old black Labrador, who has been with the SCSO more than six years, Sheriff Clarence Tuhy said.

"This is our first dog and he's done very well for us," Tuhy said. "I think with the drive and desire that Lunar has, he accepted the second owner readily and I think he'll accept this owner readily too."

Wallace is a Dickinson native and animal lover who is anxious to get to know Lunar.

"He'll be my partner and my pet," he said. "I'm excited to have one at the house again."

With the increase in population in the area, Wallace said it's important for SCSO to have a narcotics-sniffing canine.