Vincent helps take a bite out of crime
NEW HAVEN — Under amicable circumstances, 7-year-old Vincent acts more like a teddy bear than an imposing 70-pound police dog. He leans against you for more pats and gives you a syrupy stare that he hopes will convince you to toss a ball for him. He’s a mixture of Winnie the Pooh and Fred Rogers.
But one command from his handler, Vermont State Police Cpl. Justin Busby, can turn Vincent into a toothsome tornado able to stop a suspect in his or her tracks. The inseparable pair has become a formidable Addison County crime fighting team that is frequently called upon to search for missing persons and criminals, as well as track down contraband and evidence in investigations.
“I got really lucky with him,” Busby said of his pairing with Vincent, a Belgian Malinois. “He’s been a great dog. He’s with me all the time.”
It’s been like that since master and handler were first introduced to each other back in 2009. That’s when Busby, a 15-year veteran of the VSP, agreed to join the K-9 unit based at the VSP’s New Haven barracks. Vincent and his brother, Argus, were selected as state police recruits and then successfully completed — along with their handlers — many weeks of arduous training. Repetitive drills taught the dogs to instantaneously respond to specific commands, ranging from the simple act of sitting, to searching for a specific person or object.
Argus is teamed up with Sgt. Eugene Duplissis, who now serves with the VSP’s office of professional development in Pittsford. Meanwhile, Vincent regularly hits the road with Busby on patrols, and can be called upon at all times of the day when his special K-9 skills are needed.
He takes both play and work very seriously.
Lurking underneath Vincent’s cashmere-soft auburn coat and his adorable, dark-chocolate muzzle is a sense of duty that can be flicked with an audible switch that can prompt him to drop his ball and instead use his jaws to detain a suspect by the arm or leg. Blessed with a potent proboscis, Vincent is able to sniff out such drugs as marijuana, hashish, cocaine, crack and ecstasy.
His sense of smell is “several hundred times more sensitive” than a human’s, Busby explains. Put it this way — while a person can walk into a pizzeria and smell the pies cooking, Vincent can smell all the toppings, the raw dough, the individual seasonings and the perspiration on the brow of the pizza maker.
Busby provided an anecdote that perhaps best illustrates Vincent’s ability to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. Several years ago, the team was called to Bristol to search for a firearm used in a shooting. Some people involved in the case told authorities the handgun had been buried in a cornfield, though they couldn’t remember where.
“The corn at this point was seven or eight feet tall,” Busby recalled of the daunting task facing them.
Nonetheless, Vincent was put onto the scent and was released among the giant corn stalks with one directive: “Seek.” Around five minutes later, Busby hears Vincent barking. He calls out for the dog, but Vincent is staying put. He finds his dog sitting in one of the corn rows, pawing at a section of freshly turned earth. After a few scratches, Vincent has popped the butt of a gun out of the soil.
“You can’t get a better ‘smoking gun’ than that,” Busby said with a smile.
“And without (Vincent), we wouldn’t have been able to find it.”
Not every search goes swimmingly, Busby hastened to add. He acknowledged there are rare occasions when he could tear his hair out in frustration when Vincent is distracted or otherwise not on his game. But Vincent is super dependable in most situations, and Lord help anyone who tries to hurt Busby. The dog’s hair can bristle when someone merely gestures or talks to Busby in an animated fashion.
“He can read people,” Busby said of Vincent. “And he knows when the tone of my voice changes.”
With that in mind, Busby cautions suspects from the outset about the potential repercussions should they attempt to flee or get physical. Some suspects will become compliant just by being subjected to Vincent’s barking. Those who are threatening or assaultive are likely to feel Vincent’s teeth. And they hurt, as Busby can attest through being bitten while wearing a protective suit.
“We want to make sure an individual knows he can give up; we don’t just send the dog over and have him bite,” Busby said.
Looking at Vincent through a utilitarian lens, he can really be seen as a Swiss Army knife with very diverse skills.
“I love my dog beyond all, but I also have to look at him as a great piece of equipment,” Busby said, adding Vincent — as a last resort — must occasionally be put in harm’s way to ensure the preservation of human life. “I would rather risk his life than that of another law enforcement officer and have them go in (to a potentially deadly situation).”
Vincent can also turn on the charm and help defuse potentially explosive situations. There are times when Busby must respond to domestic disputes. While Busby calms the adults, Vincent loves up and distracts any children that might be in the household.
Busby and Vincent are together virtually 24/7. The dog has indeed become part of the family. While he can be fearsome on the job, Vincent is gentle on the home front. He paces politely — if not a little impatiently — around his bed when the two family cats commandeer it. And he is a veritable puppy with Busby’s two young daughters. The corporal recalled an occasion a few years ago when his two daughters petted Vincent and plied him with treats so he would sit still long enough for them to paint his toenails. Busby failed to notice the dog’s mini-makeover. So he brought Vincent to a VSP event with the dog’s toenails coated with glittery paint.
“I don’t think I’ll ever hear the end of that,” Busby said with a chuckle.
The two are recognized throughout the state, and they are among the officers featured in Ford Motor Co.’s national law enforcement calendar.
There’s no telling when Vincent will need to retire from his police duties. He’s still going strong — as is Busby, who recently received a promotion to corporal. Busby, who turns 42 this week, is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and Army. He served one year as a correctional officer in New York state prior to applying for police work in Vermont. He recalled the day in 2000 when he received job offers from both the VSP and city of Burlington. He went with the VSP, and hasn’t regretted it.
“I’ve been a Marine, a soldier, a corrections officer and a trooper,” he said. “This is, by far, the best job I’ve ever had, working with a dog.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].