Houma’s Falko named ‘Narcotics K9 of the Year’

If you’re walking the streets of Houma with drugs, you should be on the lookout for an award-winning dog looking to sniff you out.

“Falko,” a large, black and brown German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix, is one of two dogs in the Houma Police Department K9 unit. Falko recently won an award from the K9s4COPs charity as its “Narcotics K9 of the Year.”

Officer Corey Duplantis, Falko’s handler, did not know the exact criteria for the award, but he gave a rough estimation of what went into his and Falko’s success.

“I know it was your community involvement, your seizures were a big part of it, obviously. And just your overall work ethic was how they chose the [winner],” Duplantis said.

Duplantis said that he did not expect to win the award. In fact, he and Sergeant Jeff Lirette, the other human half of the HPD K-9 unit, were planning on driving home from the Texas K9 Officers Conference in Houston early to beat the bad weather. However, they were told that staying would be a good idea.

“Somebody there told us, ‘You guys might want to be here later.’ I knew we were nominated, so that’s when I thought [we had a chance],” Duplantis said.

Falko and Duplantis have been together for almost two years now. Duplantis went to the Houston K9 Academy and saw different dogs go through tests. He ultimately chose Falko, and the two spent the next two months living out of a hotel room in Houston. They trained every day to get both of them ready to work back in Houma. Duplantis said that he picked Falko for a simple reason, although there is one drawback.

“I picked him cause he was the biggest one, and I just wanted the biggest dog. I wouldn’t trade him for the world now, but he just sheds so much,” Duplantis said.

K9s4COPs footed the entire bill of buying Falko and training him and Duplantis. According to its website, the charity started in 2010 when founder Kristi Schiller heard about Blek, a Czech-German Shepherd in Harris County, Texas, losing his life in the line of duty. Since then, the charity has donated over 100 dogs in 76 agencies and school districts across 29 states, according to its website.

According to Duplantis, winning the award matters most to him because it shows K9s4COPs that their resources are not going to waste in Houma.

“You’re talking about a $15,000 dog that’s coming completely free. So, keeping the rapport with them down here knowing that we’re using the tool they gave us, we’re using every bit of money they’ve given us to train and be on the streets,” Duplantis said.

Falko is a dual-purpose K9, meaning he is used for both narcotics detection and patrolling. Whenever Duplantis goes out on the streets, Falko is right there with him. Falko is able to detect marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and MDMA. Duplantis said that Falko’s cross between breeds gives him advantages from each.

“I know the Malinois has such a high drive. I mean, you’re never gonna get this dog to not to work, and your German Shepherd is a little slower, more methodical. So, once you breed both those two dogs together, you’ve almost got the best working dog, if you ask me,” Duplantis said.

Falko and Duplantis became the second team in the HPD’s K9 unit after Lirette re-started it in 2009 with Rex, a German Shepherd. Rex passed away in 2014 from a medical condition, and now Lirette works with Gunner, a Malinois mix. Houma Police Chief Dana Coleman said that he plans to expand the K9 unit to four to six teams, and will talk with the new parish administration about expansion.

“We have a new administration coming in for parish government, and once I have the opportunity to sit down with the Parish President-elect we’ll discuss those [positions],” Coleman said.

The dogs go home with their handlers, and according to Lirette, the training and relationship building never stops.

“It’s constant training. On our days off, even when we’re not going to work, we’re always out in our backyard doing something with the dog, because the bond is everything when it comes to you and your canine partner,” Lirette said.

The dogs also get to be around children when they go home, as both Duplantis and Lirette are fathers. This helps them be sociable when they have to go to events at local schools.

“That’s what’s good about our dogs. There’s a switch, they know the difference, when it’s time to play and it’s time to work,” Lirette said.

The two K9 teams are part of the Houma PD’s effort to fight the narcotics trade. According to a Houma PD press release, through Nov. 3, Duplantis and Falko had seized more than 28 lbs. of marijuana, 700 grams of cocaine, 400 grams of heroin, 365 grams of methamphetamine and about 15 firearms. According to Duplantis, the dogs are always on the lookout for drugs, even without prompting.

“I think I wouldn’t have to tell him anything if I let him in this room cause he’s constantly looking for the toy. It’s just a constant game for them,” Duplantis said.

Working in an environment like the drug trade brings an element of danger. Falko himself wears a bulletproof vest, paid for with money that Falko has seized. Duplantis is thankful that Falko has never had to save his life up to this point, but he’s got no doubt his dog would step in and protect him.

“I’m not saying it’s never going to happen, because I’ll never be that naïve, but in the event that it does happen, I have no doubt that he will,” Duplantis said. •