Gloucester Township-raised police officer gets national praise for work with K-9

After competing at both Regionals and Nationals, Ptl. Steven Palma and his K-9 Radko made history in the state of New Jersey

Radko is the first K-9 police dog with the Berlin Borough Police Department. When the department was notified they were able to receive and train a K-9, it took to action to fundraise to make the dream a possibility.

In a matter of two weeks, the department raised approximately $13,000 to help assist in getting the dog, training and more.

Ptl. Steven Palma, originally from Gloucester Township, picked up Radko from the Newark airport at just 11 months old, as he came in from the Czech Republic, and went straight into the ‘K-9 academy.’

“There was not much bonding time with him when I first got him, cause usually they let you bond with the dog for a little bit, but I just went right to the academy,” said Palma. “There was a rocky road with him. Bonding with him, taking him home, trying to get him to bond with the family.”

Flash forward a year a half into the future, and Radko is now the only nationally certified K-9 in New Jersey through scent and patrol.

Palma and Radko participated in the 2018 USPCA National Field Trials in Huntsville, Alabama during the middle of September, after having qualified to go through the regional trials in Glenn Mills, Pennsylvania just days prior to the national competition.

And although the recognition and awards Radko has received in recent weeks is outstanding Palma admits that, even weeks before regionals, that such admirations seemed ludicrous to believe could happen yet.

“If you were to tell me two months prior, before regionals, that I’d be competing and win first place, I’d thought you were out of your mind,” said Palma. “His obedience just wasn’t there, it wasn’t clicking in. I was out there everyday on duty, working him, working him, doing all sorts of stuff. But it’s been a great thing that’s happened with him.”

At the Regional K-9 Trials, Radko obtained his regional certification while receiving first place in Novice overall dog, obedience and criminal apprehension while receiving second place in agility. His score qualified him a place at the national competition just days later and the pair went together after briefly returning to Berlin for a few days beforehand.

Although Radko did not win any formal awards like he did at regionals, Palma and Radko beat their total score from regionals, despite the tougher grading and point system that comes at a national competition, helping make Radko a nationally certified K-9.

“The main thing with nationals is to certify in excellence… that’s the most important thing,” said Palma. “Believe it or not, I actually scored higher at nationals than I did at regionals when we scored first, but we still didn’t place because you’re dealing with the top dogs.”

While regionals was a two-day competition focusing on obedience, evidence and suspect search, agility and apprehension, nationals was a week-long span due to the much larger scale.

Although it’s been a long winding road with Radko thus far to get him acclimated to police work thus far, Palma is certain that his toughest days are behind him. According to Palma, he’s always wanted to work with a K-9 since joining the police department, so competing in these competitions has become a dream come true.