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Steve Coultrup and Barrett

Barrett, the St. Helena Police Department's new K9 unit, with his handler, Officer Steve Coultrup.

Jesse Duarte, Star

ST. HELENA — The newest member of the St. Helena Police Department is everything you could want in a cop: skilled, outgoing, multi-lingual, loyal to his partner, and clearly not someone a bad guy would want to tangle with.

Plus, if you scratch him behind his ears, you’ll have a friend for life.

Barrett, bred in Eastern Europe, is the department’s new K9. The 15-month-old German shepherd is trained to sniff out narcotics, track suspects or missing persons, search buildings, and, if commanded to do so, chase down and take a bite out of a criminal.

Barrett and his handler, Officer Steve Coultrup, have gotten to know each other over a month of daily ride-alongs – during which Barrett mostly stayed in the car – followed by five weeks of training and bonding with the help of a professional K9 handler in Novato. April 2 was their first day on patrol together.

“He’s still a pup, so he’s playful,” Coultrup said. “He’s really attached to me and he’s already part of our family. My wife loves him and my daughter loves him.”

Part of the training involved teaching Barrett to protect Coultrup. So while it’s perfectly safe to pet Barrett if Coultrup says it’s OK, it’s best not to make any quick movements toward Coultrup – even a friendly slap on the back – that Barrett might mistake for an attack on his best friend.

“He is very protective of me, and he may not know that someone just wants to pat me on the back and say hi,” he said. “But I’m happy to introduce him and let people pet him.”

Barrett replaces Djino, a Belgian Malinois who’s enjoying retirement at the home of his handler, Officer Steve Peterson, after almost seven years with the St. Helena Police Department.

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It’s standard for police dogs to live with their handlers. When he’s off duty, Barrett interacts well with Coultrup’s wife, daughter and their Boston terrier, who’s already become Barrett’s back-yard playmate.

“When we’re off work, he’s kind of a big goofball, but he’s got a really good switch where when it’s time to work he gets serious,” Coultrup said. “He gets fired up in the mornings. He knows it’s time to go to work.”

Coultrup said he’s “always been a dog person,” so he was happy to sign up for the K9 assignment, knowing it would be a long-term commitment.

“I worked with Steve quite a bit with Djino,” Coultrup said. “I thought it be really interesting to discover a whole new aspect of the job by trying something different like this.”

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.