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BPS unleashes its newest K-9 officer

Tue, 06/11/2024

Birochek and k-9

Unlike most people in the workforce, Master Officer Ivan Birochak’s ride-or-die colleague has four paws and a tail — and prefers to be paid with treats and pats on the head.

“There’s this special understanding of one another,” Birochak, who is the handler for the Bureau of Protective Services’ newest K-9, Georgie, said of the unique bond between a K-9 and its handler. “Even though you’re coming from two separate backgrounds, you’re meeting in the middle as one unison team.”

Birochak’s strong personal convictions and a desire to give back to his community led him into a career in law enforcement in 2007. Serving as a reserve deputy at the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department and later as a City of Columbia Police officer, Birochak gained valuable hands-on experience as a shift supervisor and K-9 handler. 

“It’s probably one of the harder jobs in law enforcement,” he said of being a K-9 handler. “Even on your days off, you’re spending several hours a day keeping your dog active and healthy. Although it’s a lot of work, it’s something that I really have grown to appreciate and associate with the job.”

At CPD, Birochak trained a Belgian Malinois, Nika, whose abilities ranged from tracking and apprehending suspects to narcotics detection and handler protection. An unstoppable duo, Birochak and Nika earned the Top Dog award for the CPD K-9 unit in 2018 and 2019.

“She loved to work,” Birochak said of his K-9 companion. “Nika was incredibly intense. If I threw her Kong toy off a bridge, she would jump off to go get it. There would be no hesitation.” 

After Nika’s passing in 2021, Birochak took a short break from law enforcement and later joined the Bureau of Protective Services in August 2023. 

“With this job, I get to proudly represent my division, BPS, and the South Carolina Department of Public Safety to our lawmakers,” Birochak said. “There definitely is a lot of support and camaraderie within the department.”

With BPS in need of another explosive detection K-9, Birochak visited K2 Solutions K-9 Training Academy in North Carolina, a facility that prepares dogs for service in law enforcement.

“We were looking for a dog that would be a good representation of our department,” Birochak said. “It needed to have the right temperament to interact with all the various groups on the State House grounds.”

While at the training academy, Birochak met his new companion: A good-natured 2-year-old black Labrador Retriever named Georgie. Trained to recognize more than 20 odors relating to bombs and firearms, Georgie specializes in person-borne explosives—meaning she can detect such odors on a person, static or in motion.  

“For a Lab, Georgie has one of the strongest drives I’ve ever seen,” Birochak said. “She also expresses herself with licks and kisses and wants to be loved.”

Together, Birochak and Georgie underwent six weeks of additional odor recognition training—learning to locate incendiary weapons everywhere from open fields to crowded airports. 

“This new explosive-detection K-9 team brings an invaluable layer of security to the State House, Governor’s Mansion, and other state facilities,” said Chief Matthew Calhoun, BPS commander. “With their capabilities, this K-9 Team enhances our ability to detect and prevent potential threats, ensuring the safety and peace of mind for all on these complexes.”

Now, Georgie is settling in with her new fur-ever family at BPS, patrolling the capitol and befriending lawmakers and state employees alike. 

“I’ve had numerous requests to drop by their offices and show her off,” Birochak said. “She’s a mini-celebrity here.”