‘Invested’ in crime prevention

Voorhees Township Police Department receives bullet and stab protective vest from nonprofit Vested Interest in K9s.

Voorhees Police Officer Nick Gruber stands with K9 Bo, showing off his bullet and stab protective vest. The vest was donated by Vested Interest in K9s, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide bullet and stab protective vests and other assistance to dogs of law enforcement and related agencies throughout the United States.

These days, Voorhees Police Department’s K9 Bo is more protected than his handler, officer Nick Gruber. Bo received a bulletproof vest through a grant from Vested Interest in K9s in December that is also stab protective, something the police officers vests are not.

Vested Interest in K9s is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide bullet and stab protective vests and other assistance to dogs of law enforcement and related agencies throughout the United States. It has provided vests to police departments in all 50 states, and the Voorhees Police Department believes it is the first in South Jersey to receive the vests.

The other three K9s in the department — Maverick, Ruck and Kane — will be receiving the same bulletproof vests in the coming months.

Voorhees Police Officer Nick Gruber holds the department’s old protective gear for its K9s, at left, and the new vest, at right.

These vests are valued between $1,795 and $2,234 and weigh four to five pounds.

Gruber, who’s been with the department for 16 years, said they are essential for K9s because they are the first ones going into a situation and are the first target suspects will shoot at.

“So many K9s are getting shot all over the country because they are the first guy leading; everybody else is behind,” he said. “It’s so important. Any situation you’re going in with a weapon, you have to have a vest. The dog is more protected than us because it’s also stab protective.”

It took some time for Bo to get used to wearing the vest, mostly because it’s somewhat heavy and wears Bo out sometimes. He only wears it when a weapon is involved, and luckily, Gruber has had to put the vest on him only twice since December. One of those instances, the suspect tossed his gun as soon as Bo got near him.

Before K9 Schultz died in the line of duty in November 2010, a person who harmed or killed a K9 was charged with a four-degree offense. His death led to New Jersey’s “Schultz’s Law,” which now requires a three- to five-year sentence for those who harm law enforcement animals.

K9 Bo sits in the back seat of Gruber’s SUV.

K9s are able to cover so much ground quicker than police officers, and Gruber talked about two times where they were able to capture a suspect and gather evidence in little time because of Bo and the other K9s.

“We had someone break into Macy’s, and for us to go in there take numerous guys, it would take awhile to get to search the area,” he said. “The dog led us right to where he was within 10 minutes. That entire building has three floors, and within less than 10 minutes, we had the guy.

Another time there was a bank robbery on (Route) 73 and we ended up getting the guy, but we had to go back to get evidence because the suspect stripped off his mask, clothes, the gun and sweatshirt. It would have taken 10 to 20 of us to search the woods, but we put the dog out there, and he covered several acres of wooded acres in so little time.”

Gruber, who has an 18-year son, said there was a bond with Bo from day one, and he’s only been away from him eight days out of the eight years they’ve been together.

“You have a special bond with your kid, but your dog never leaves your side,” he said.

“The bond really is incredible. He’s always at your feet. I couldn’t imagine life without him. No matter what I’ve asked him to do, he’s done it. He’s had an unbelievable career and I think a lot of that comes from the bond.”