Just three months ago, his canine partner was killed in the line of duty. Now, for the first time, St. Paul Police Officer Dave Longbehn is opening up about that fateful day and how he's dealing with the loss.
For members of the St. Paul Police Department's K-9 Unit, losing a partner is like losing a member of the family. The dogs live with their handlers when they are off-duty, and Longbehn recently welcomed a new partner to his home.
There is something special about the bond between a man and his dog that can warm even the hardest heart. While it may look like Longbehn and his partner, Duke, are having fun, each obstacle they overcome is serious business.
"We do evidence recovery with the dogs, we do tracking, we do criminal apprehension," Longbehn explained.
Longbehn's last partner, Kody, was searching for a suspect in February when he made the ultimate sacrifice. The two were trying to find Alden Anderson, a man wanted for criminal sexual conduct. He was found in the basement of his sister's home on Aurora Avenue in St. Paul, but Anderson stabbed Kody to death before officers opened fire and killed him.
"He died a hero," Longbehn said. "He died doing exactly what he was trained to do -- protect the officers who were there and go in on point and find the bad guy."
Longbehn and Kody had been working together for eight years, collaring criminals and sniffing out a stash of cocaine valued at more than $1 million that was hidden in a car. Yet, Longbehn said their most rewarding assignment was visiting sick children every couple of months at children's hospitals and clinics in St. Paul.
"He was always there for us," Longbehn remembered. "He was always up for whatever we wanted to do."
Kody had been by Longbehn's side for three years when he confronted Jason Jones, who had ambushed Maplewood Police Sgt. Joe Bergeron in his squad car just a few hours earlier.
"The real hero is Sgt. Bergeron," Longbehn told FOX 9 News at the time of the arrest. "He's the hero that came first."
Ironically, Kody was just a couple of weeks away from retiring and living out the rest of his days with the Longbehn family when he died in the line of duty -- and that fact made breaking the news of his death to Longbehn's adult children even harder.
"It was really tough. We were all very sad -- a tough deal for all of us," Longbehn admitted. "Shed a lot of tears."
Since then, Longbehn and Duke have been getting to know each other while going through 12 weeks of training at St. Paul's K-9 Academy.
"Duke is younger, very intense, very high drive in the dog," Longbehn said. "Driven, young."
Over the years, dozens of dogs have served in the K-9 unit -- and Longbehn said he is confident Duke will live up to their heroic legacy.
"Duke is a good dog. He's done everything we've asked him to do in school here and I have no doubt he'll do a great job once he hits the streets," he said.
Duke is actually Longbehn's fourth partner, and the two will graduate from the academy on Thursday afternoon along with more than a dozen K-9 officers from other departments.