Ofc. Mike Leonard-K9 Taylor 1
Ofc. Mike Leonard-K9 Taylor 3

On February 14, 2018, Nicolas Cruz, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, walked into the Freshman Building on campus and shot 34 people, 17 of them fatally.

Many questions were asked in the aftermath. How do schools better protect students? Were metal detectors a possible answer? Canines have played a vital role in public safety for many years, could they fill the void? The City of Coconut Creek, and the Coconut Creek Police Department, took a visionary position in that canine discussion. The police department established a partnership with Vapor Wake K9, a one-of-a-kind canine training facility near Auburn University where dogs are trained to detect firearms using a unique, patented formula.

While most handlers are trained to lead their canines to where they want to search, Vapor Wake K9 literally flipped the script. Vapor Wake canines are trained to identify scents of a firearm, or firearm component, then lead their handlers to the source. The canine alerts by passively sitting at the source.

Coconut Creek became the first police department in the country to implement a Vapor Wake canine as a School Safety Dog. Officer Michael Leonard, trained in Alabama for seven weeks with his new Vapor Wake partner, K9 Taylor. Officer Leonard and K9 Taylor mastered all facets of detecting firearms in everything from buildings, to crowds at an Auburn University football game. They graduated the program and took what they learned to schools in Coconut Creek.

Although there were challenges that had to be worked out with some members of the school board and its staff, the board voted to start a pilot program last February in four Coconut Creek schools. Officer Leonard and K9 Taylor would work at each of the schools in firearms detection.

K9 Taylor picked up the scent of every training decoy at each training session, following the scent to the source, who was placed at various locations throughout each school. Then, only a month into the pilot program, Officer Leonard noticed that K9 Taylor picked up the scent of a possible firearm, or firearm component, while inside one of the schools. She alerted on a bag left unattended in a hallway of the school, which belonged to substitute teacher. While no firearm was found, the substitute teacher said he recently carried a firearm in the bag and had taken it to a shooting range.

In April 2021, the school board indicated its support to give the remaining four schools in Coconut Creek the option of allowing Officer Leonard and K9 Taylor permission to work in their schools, affirming the success of this unique approach to firearm detection and school safety.

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