New trained drug-sniffing dog joins Naperville police force

The newest member of the Naperville Police Department staff is an eager worker, his superiors say. He wakes up early each day, ready to take on the rigors and rewards of police work with equal gusto.

Not bad work qualities for a 17-month-old.

Maximus, known as Max, is the recently trained partner of Officer Grif Lippencott, a lifelong resident of Naperville and an 18-year veteran of the department.

Lippencott and Max have been reporting for work together just since the beginning of the month, after spending April getting to know one another’s work habits at Northern Michigan K-9 Inc., a training facility in Clare, Mich.

The officer said it’s he, not his new partner, who needed the most training.

“The dog knows exactly what it’s doing. He’s been trained to do this his whole life,” said Lippencott, 44.

A Belgian malinois-German shepherd mix, Max is leaner than a shepherd and has a shorter nose and ears. He’s also very energetic. He needs to run every day, and he loves to work, because it leads to play.

“When he’s looking for dope, he’s looking for this,” said Lippencott, tugging playfully on a black burlap chew toy as Max clenches down on it with his powerful jaws. “He knows this is what’s next.”

Barely two weeks into the job, Max had his first big assignment when the 7-Eleven on Bailey Road was robbed last Thursday morning. He was put on the scent of the offender and tracked him to his last known location, where he got into a car and got away. Police are continuing to search for the suspect.

“Because of the odor that the human body puts out when they’re doing that, he was able to track that,” Lippencott said. “I was very pleased. Tracking is a very hard skill.”

The two partners, who will likely work drug cases and tracking work on 12-hour shifts for the next six to eight years, go home at the end of the work day. Max has a 10-by-10-foot kennel with a roof in the backyard of the home Lippencott shares with his family and their own two dogs, and a smaller pen is set up in the garage, where he sleeps at night.

“He’s got like the Hotel Arista out back,” Lippencott said, laughing.

Working with a young partner has its benefits, and its challenges.

“He’s just like a kid,” said Lippencott, who has kids of his own. “Although he’s had a super amount of training, he’s still a kid.”

It was crucial, he said, to gain an understanding of Max’s behaviors as soon as possible. They had been matched, on the basis of assorted known traits shown by each, before they met.

“It’s huge marrying up the handler’s personality with the dog’s personality,” said Lippencott, who discovered there was deep truth in the warnings he’d heard that the training period would be the most frustrating and most rewarding time of his career. “They don’t think the same way we do.”

Cmdr. Jason Arres, who oversees the department’s K-9 unit, sees Max as a lucky dog with the partner he’s been assigned. He noted that Lippencott, a 26-year Marine reservist, has numerous deployments and extensive dog training work on his resume, along with a great deal of experience in special operations and other police assignments. He worked with a K-9 unit in 2004 and 2005 when he was deployed to Iraq, where bomb-sniffing dogs are targeted by the enemy. Lippencott also trained hundreds of recruits in California after coming home into the Reserves.

“The one thing that Grif brings that’s unique is he’s done work in a lot of situations, and that helps,” Arres said.

Lippencott plans to retire from the military next year and said he’s often encouraged to hang up his patrol hat soon as well. But he has no plans to leave the working world, particularly with a new partner to break in.

“I couldn’t ask for a better job,” he said.

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