Sgt. Mike Frazee, a K-9 handler with the Frankfort Police Department, feels a surge of adrenaline when his phone rings at 2 a.m.
“Nobody calls me at 2 o’clock in the morning except for dispatch or my captain,” he says. “So I know when my phone rings at 2 o’clock in the morning, it’s going to be something good.”
One bitter March morning, Mike got one of those early-morning calls. Two men had robbed a home in Tierra Linda.
It took him a few minutes to get there – but the scent was red hot.
Dispatch called while officers were interviewing one of the victims, Lenuel Martin, at his Maverick Trail home.
The robbers were now across the street at Samantha Conway’s Fiesta Way home, the dispatch operator said.
Mike and his 4-year-old police dog, Johny, went to work.
“They got out [of Conway’s home] before we got there. I couldn’t even tell you much about it because everything was just so fast. The lead was so hot.”
Mike sprinted with Johny. The experienced police dog didn’t have to put his nose to the ground, because the men’s scent hung fresh in the air.
Officers flanked the duo, watching for potential ambushes.
Johny led the officers over a fence. Mike, who works out extensively to handle the 100-pound German shepherd, says if Johny jumps a fence, he jumps it too.
“If he’s going, you’re going, and if you’re not on the other end of that leash, he’ll go without you.”
Johny stopped near some bushes on Galbraith Road and obediently sat, as he was trained.
The robbers, Justin Beasley, 21, and Jeffery Wheat, 20, both of 35 Ashwood Court #15, were caught.
They’ve each been sentenced to 15 years and their driver, Jonathan Jackson, 28, of 142 Centennial Ave., faces charges of complicity to commit robbery and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
Just another day in the life of a K-9 handler, Mike says.
“That’s why we do it,” he says. “You know, people always ask why you want to become a policeman. Well, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t want to help people, number one.
“But there’s also this thing … I never know what could happen. I could be sitting here talking to you all and the phone could ring and I’d have to go out right now. Or we could be sitting for three hours one night, nothing happening, then something happen, and we’d have to take it 10 steps up.”
Mike, 33, decided to become a police officer while he was growing up in Middletown, Ohio. He used to ride with the local police and got a first-hand look at the life of a cop.
He got a soccer scholarship to play goalkeeper at Tiffin University, an NCAA Division II school in Tiffin, Ohio.
Eastern Kentucky University’s top-notch law enforcement program lured him from the Buckeye state two years into his college career.
He met his wife, Beth, a University of Kentucky student and Frankfort native, in 1996 at Panama City, Fla., during spring break; he insists it was under decent circumstances.
“She had some friends that I had, and we didn’t know each other,” Mike said. “We all decided to go down there, and I met her, and we started dating when I got back.”
Mike joined the Frankfort Police Department in 1999 as an officer. The city had enough money to open another K-9 position in 2000, and Mike says he wanted the position because of the added thrill of being a member of a special task force.
That, and he’s always been a dog person.
He graduated from K-9 school and joined the department in 2001.
Mike had to learn German commands, because the dogs were born and trained in Europe, where John Howard – a dog expert the city uses to buy police dogs – goes to pick up future K-9s.
As a K-9 handler, Mike is required to keep Johny at his home. Mike’s first dog, 9-year-old German shepherd Marco, is retired and now a family pet.
Police and the city pay for everything Johny needs while he’s on the force, Mike says.
“We’re fortunate enough that the police department and the city give us the stuff to take care of them at home. We have the pad, we have the kennel that the city purchased for us. All the food, all the medical bills while the dog is working is paid for by the city.”
Expenses – including food, veterinarian visits and kennels – cost around $15,000 total for the dog’s career.
Once a dog retires, usually by age 7, the responsibility falls on the handler.
Mike has two children – 6-year-old Caleb and 3-year-old Juliana – and he initially worried about how children and police dogs would mix under one roof.
“When I first got (Marco), I hadn’t had my little boy yet. When you start having kids, you start worrying a little about if it’s going to be safe for them.”
His fear subsided when he saw how affectionate Marco was around Caleb, and things haven’t changed with Johny in the picture.
“My kids run the roost at my house and the dogs know that,” Mike said. “They’ll roll around and play with them and wrestle them. It hasn’t been too much different, but a little more work.”
Mike says the greatest practice to handling a police dog is real-world experience.
One of Mike’s first chases involved Ted Spiegel – who’d set fire to the Franklin County Courthouse in the early 1990s – for breaking into a physician’s office on Versailles Road office around 2003.
Spiegel had just gotten out of prison and was still in the doctor’s office when Mike arrived with Marco.
Marco kept throwing his head up while looking for Spiegel, but Mike didn’t know the dog was trying to tell him to look up.
“I was brand new, and I was thinking, ‘What the heck is he doing?’ Come to find out, one of the doors was locked and we gained entry into it and there were footprints on the walls.”
Spiegel had climbed into the ceiling through a tile and fallen through the hollow space between two walls.
“Lesson learned. I started paying more attention to the dog.”
Like people, police dogs have different talents. Johny is an excellent tracking dog, while Marco had a knack for sniffing out narcotics.
While working one case with the Drug Enforcement Agency four or five years ago, Mike brought Marco to a suspected drug deal at America’s Best Value Inn on Lawrenceburg Road.
Marco found two or three pounds of marijuana in the trunk of a suspect’s car.
Mike then ran Marco by every door on the inn’s second floor, where the suspect had rented a room.
“We got an alert on the room, and I can’t remember what room number it was, but there was a suitcase with 60 pounds of marijuana in it.”
The suspect still hasn’t been caught as far as Mike knows, but the DEA didn’t tell him the details of the case.
Neither Johny nor Marco has bitten anyone, Mike said, knocking on wood.
Mike says his job may not be the most dangerous, but it’s definitely one of the riskier on the force.
“You don’t have time to really pay attention to your surroundings. That’s the cover guy’s responsibility to watch surroundings. My job is to watch the dog.”
With his focus on the dog, Mike has to trust the men behind him to watch his back.
“Usually when we bring the dog out, it’s a serious crime. The guy behind me, if I don’t trust him, it’s not going to work.”
Mike trains with Johny and Officer Derek Napier five hours or more each week. Robberies and burglaries are more common around the holidays, and the men practice laying tracks and pursuing a hunt.
Mike’s training pays off. He placed third nationally in the U.S. Police Canine Association’s narcotics certification competition, while Derek won first place.
“We go up there for the certification, but we’ve all got that competitive itch in us, so of course we want to go up there and do well,” Mike said.
Though Mike and Johny train vigilantly, Mike says it’s hard not to give Johny snacks from time to time and treat him like a dog rather than a law enforcement tool.
“It’s hard not to, but it’s one of those things where I don’t want him to pay attention to find food. He’s here to work.”
“Frankfort Faces” is a series that highlights people from within the Frankfort and Franklin County community. Each feature follows one of the city’s most unique personalities and includes a story, photos and video, which can be found by clicking the TV icon attached to the story online at state-journal.com.