JOLIET – Patrol shifts have been a little different for Joliet Police Officer Pete Van Gessel since the new year began.
“I’m not used to checking the rearview mirror and seeing the backseat,” he said. “Usually, he’s there taking up the entire [visible area].”
For nine years, Van Gessel’s K-9 partner, Biaky, rode in the back of his squad car, ready for searches, tracking and community outreach. The 10-year-old German shepherd was retired from service last month because of canine arthritis.
The dog was born in Holland, and despite searching online for translations, Van Gessel has no idea what the name means. He speculated Biaky is “the European version of Fido.”
Van Gessel had dogs growing up, but had no interest in being a K-9 officer until he saw how they could assist in many different cases. He and Biaky learned to work together during a six-week academy and trained monthly throughout the dog’s career.
In 2013, Biaky found 30 kilos of cocaine and more than 100 pounds of marijuana hidden in the refrigeration unit of a semitrailer. He also found drugs hidden in car trunks, guns hidden inside vehicles and bundles of cash inside a gas tank.
“We’ve kicked in doors, done building searches and found burglars,” Van Gessel said. “You can have 20 officers trying to control a crowd (unsuccessfully), and then it will just take the one dog.
“He can be a distraction. I once had a burglar come out of a building so focused on the dog he didn’t see the six officers coming up next to him.”
Van Gessel and Biaky also have assisted other agencies, from Evanston to Wilmington to Yorkville, over the years.
“He’s been one of the best dogs you can have. He can go from friendly to mean guy in two seconds,” Van Gessel said. “If I’ve been parked somewhere working on a report, he’ll tell me when someone’s coming up to the car... and he’s still the guardian of [my] house.”
Like most K-9 handlers, Van Gessel decided to keep Biaky after he was taken out of service. Instead of making the dog available to the public as surplus property, the City Council approved selling him to Van Gessel for $1.
“I think there’s one piece of paperwork left for the purchase to be official, but I’ve got a single in my wallet, so whenever it’s ready,” Van Gessel said.
Biaky still gets worked up when he sees Van Gessel putting on his uniform and waits at the door for his handler to come get him. The 87-pound retiree is coping with his new normal by destroying tennis balls.
“[A new one] will be popped in a day, but I’ll still give him a fresh supply every month,” Van Gessel said.
Van Gessel said the “approachability” of a dog makes it one of the best liaisons between the police and the public, while its versatility makes it an indispensable tool.
Joliet police now have three general-purpose canines and one dedicated for narcotics detection.
A replacement dog for Biaky is part of the department’s budget this year.