Robbinsville Police Officer Ed Vincent finds walking from one end of Robbinsville High School to the other takes a bit longer now.
The school resource officer has been a popular presence at Robbinsville High in the five years he’s been stationed there, but since he returned to work Oct. 24 after a two-week training trip with his new partner, he has had more students than ever stop him in the halls, visit him in his office and even give him high-fives. During a lunch period Oct. 24, a dozen students surrounded Vincent at once in the hallway seeking conversation. Five minutes later, in his office, another group of six paid him a visit. When those six left, another four came. And on and on.
Vincent had certain expectations for his training and for his new partnership. But this new popularity had been a pleasant surprise. But Vincent knows he can’t take all the credit. People just seem to melt when they see his partner’s face.
And the partner seems to be enjoying himself, too.
Vincent’s new sidekick is Rigo, a 16-month-old black Labrador also who will be stationed at Robbinsville High, and will go where Vincent goes. This includes teaching the STAR program at Pond Road Middle School, going on periodic visits to Sharon Elementary School, and attending Robbinsville High sporting events. Rigo—pronounced “Ree-go”—is Vincent’s first K9 partner.
Rigo is trained for explosives detection and tracking. He can track anything with a human scent, including items, and will be used in cases where there is a missing person or a suspect on the run. He is the second K9 officer with RPD; the first, Quori, has been trained to detected narcotics. K9 officers cannot be cross-trained in narcotics and explosives.
Officials with the municipal government approached the school district and the police department with the idea of adding a K9 officer with explosives detection expertise, Vincent said. All sides agreed in short order.
“There has been an increase in social media threats across the country, and we are continuously looking for ways to improve the safety of students in the district.” Robbinsville Chief of Police Chris Nitti said in a press release. “These threats take time to investigate and authenticate. By deploying Rigo into the schools we will be able to quickly determine if the threat is credible without disrupting the daily school schedule. Additionally, his ability to track human scent will be a tremendous asset when attempting to locate a lost child, missing person or a fleeing suspect.”
Rigo has been with Vincent since mid-October. Prior to that, he lived with a foster family and trained at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Vet Working Dog Center every day from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. Rigo has been in the training program at UPenn since he was 8 weeks old. He’s expected to complete the final phase of his scent training in March 2018.
Before introducing Rigo to RHS, Vincent first brought him home and to his children’s sporting events. Rigo met the Vincents’ three other dogs: two Labradors and a German Shepherd. Everyone settled in quickly.
A lot of that surely is due to Rigo’s disposition. He exudes a patient, calm presence, and wags his tail when receiving pats and his favorite salmon-flavored treats. Vincent said Rigo has been trained to be this way, and is allowed to be social nearly all the time. The one exception will be if Rigo has to actively track—distractions then must be kept to a minimum. Rigo knows when it is time to go to work; he has learned that being fitted with his tracking harness is a signal to jump into action. Once fitted with his harness, Rigo gets a jolt of energy. And he has a talent for his work, as Rigo ranked as the best explosive-detecting dog in his class.
Aside from his time in the harness, Rigo has been—in Vincent’s words—“chill.” Rigo doesn’t bark, jump or react much to any stimuli. He has trained with Vincent in airports and subway stations, and since just after birth has been brought to busy places like supermarkets and shopping malls.
RPD envisioned Rigo for use as a tool and a deterrent and for community outreach. Just hours into his time at RHS, Rigo seemed to have achieved one of those goals already. When Vincent took to the halls with Rigo the morning of Oct. 24, the pair instantly got attention.
A boy walking by shouted “Rigo!” to the dog in the same manner one would acknowledge a football teammate. A group of students meekly approached, and one asked, “Officer Vincent, can we pet him?”
“Aww, so sweet!” a girl said.
“He’s so cute!” another followed.
Vincent asked each of them if they were missing class. They assured him they weren’t.
Vincent said in the first four hours of the school day Oct. 24 he had met dozens of students he didn’t know. There were also visits from lots of students who Vincent knew, including some who have been in trouble with the law. Vincent said one such student tossed the ball with Rigo for 10 minutes, a valuable bonding experience for all involved.
Vincent has a lot more planned for Rigo. RPD Sgt. Scott Kivet has taught his K9 partner Quori tricks, like “chipmunk” where the dog swats on his back legs, puts his front legs in front of him like a rodent and hits a tennis ball with his nose. Vincent said he needs teach Rigo some fancy tricks like Quori’s.
But the duo is off to a fast start, and already has a something of a catchphrase, thanks to Vincent: “Where I go, Rigo.”
And the students in Robbinsville couldn’t be happier about it.