‘Fearless protector’

Isanti County Deputy VanderVegt and K-9 Kojak earn regional awards

Walking though swamps and fields, oftentimes in the middle of the night looking for a suspect, is all in a day’s work for Isanti County Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan VanderVegt and his K-9 partner Kojak.
The partners recently attended the United States Police K-9 Association Patrol Trials Region 12 annual meeting held in Fargo, North Dakota, where they earned six awards. Region 12 represents the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Manitoba, Canada. The regional patrol trials also served as the recertification process for Kojak in regard to narcotics and patrol.
VanderVegt, who has been with the sheriff’s office for nearly eight years, has been the K-9 deputy with Kojak since June 2012.
“I’m thankful for every day I get with Kojak,” VanderVegt said. “He will be 7 years old in August and I’m hoping he can keep working until he’s 10. He loves coming to work every day.”
The awards VanderVegt and Kojak received at the annual meeting were for specific cases from the past year. The cases included looking for a suspect who fled from a stolen car in the city of Isanti; finding a man who had been in a car crash near Stanchfield, fled the scene and was found unconscious but alive laying in field; and a life-saving award for locating a suicidal male.
VanderVegt and Kojak earned the Patrol Case of the Quarter and Patrol Case of the Year award for a case involving Scott Arlen Lange. On Aug. 17, around 11:20 p.m., Lange was located by law enforcement in a vehicle in Springvale Township and pursued, since there were outstanding warrants out for his arrest. A high-speed chase ensued, and after fleeing into a cornfield, Lange was arrested utilizing Kojak and Isanti County deputies. During his arrest, Lange tried choking the K-9 and was violent toward the deputies. Lange was convicted of second-degree murder in June 1992 in Pine County District Court for killing a Pine County deputy sheriff with a flashlight following a traffic stop in August 1991 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Since the Lange case won for Patrol Case of the Year for Region 12, it will now be submitted for Patrol Case of the Year in the national contest.
“This was our first year ever submitting cases and I really did this for Kojak,” VanderVegt said. “I know Kojak is getting toward the end of his career and these awards will be nice for his legacy.”
VanderVegt knows Kojak will always have his back.
“On the street, his loyalty is never failing,” VanderVegt said. “In the face of danger, he’s absolutely fearless and he always has my back. He will always stay in battle with me and we will help each other succeed. He is my fearless protector.”
VanderVegt worked with Kojak for four months, for 40-hours per week, during the initial training with Kojak, and the training always continues.
“I think we have over 1,500 hours of time invested into Kojak and we have had over 360 calls for service during his five-year career,” VanderVegt said.
VanderVegt and Kojak take pride in the apprehension of suspects.
“Our greatest satisfaction is being able to go to victims of a crime, whether it’s an assault, home invasion or burglary, and tell them, ‘You can go to bed – we caught them,’” VanderVegt said. “We’ve also tracked down stalkers and people who have violated orders for protection.”
Isanti County Sheriff Chris Caulk was the sheriff’s office’s first K-9 deputy with his K-9 Nike in 2003. Nike retired from the department in October 2010 after being diagnosed with retina atrophy and was losing his eyesight and died in August 2014.
“It is my obligation to look out for the safety of the public and our 85 employees,” Caulk said. “We are always looking at ways to improve our public safety and our K-9 program is an invaluable tool. Our K-9 tool offers us a non-deadly force encounter.”
Caulk said Kojak is also used for community policing and as a public relations tool during different community events. He mentioned the department will be starting a second K-9 program that will officially launch in 2018.
“Our K-9 program has been so successful since we started it in 1993, and we can’t appreciate enough the work Jonathan has done with Kojak. It really is an ongoing commitment,” Caulk said.
VanderVegt and Kojak work 12-hour shifts, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and Kojak lives with VanderVegt’s family.
“When we are at home, he is definitely his dad’s dog, but the girls will go outside and hang out with him by his kennel,” VanderVegt said. “He will faithfully guard my family and he comes to work with me every day. He has a nice kennel in my squad with food and water. He loves it in there.”
Caulk appreciates everything VanderVegt does for the sheriff’s office.
“Jonathan goes out there with the other cover officers and will race 100 mph toward gunfire when everyone else is racing 100 mph away,” Caulk said. “We will lay down our lives for our community because that’s what we signed up to do, but we hope that will never happen. Jonathan won’t send his dog in on a suicide mission, but if necessary, Kojak will give up his life for us.”
Caulk said the K-9 program is a team effort.
“We appreciate Jonathan and all the work he’s put into this program but it isn’t just him alone that makes this program a success,” Caulk said. “It is a team effort and since 2003, we have funded this program without the use of any tax dollars. It is truly a community-supported program funded by donations. It really does take a village to make this program successful. I would like to thank the entire team that makes this program a success.”
Besides criminal cases, VanderVegt and Kojak will work on missing person cases, vulnerable adult situations, work with suicidal people and assist other agencies when needed.
“Our biggest satisfaction is when a victim of a crime is able to sleep at night,” VanderVegt said. “But we are also cops and work to identify the major problems in our community and find solutions to it. We know a major problem in our community is meth that may lead to stolen property, that may lead to abuse. It’s our job to go after these people. Wherever we are, we always try to be successful. The K-9 is a good tool to help tackle some of our communities problems.”