SOMERVILLE, NJ - Somerset County Sheriff’s Officer David Daneker was in the midst of a presentation when his radio crackled with a message that he was needed in Montgomery to help with a motor vehicle stop on Route 206.
He promised the young cadets in the Somerville Youth Police Academy he would return and introduce them to his partner and demonstrate the unique talents that make him one of the best at what he does.
Downstairs, outside the Somerville First Aid Squad building, his partner was waiting; he had been siting in the car, engine running, with the air conditioner circulating cool air to stay comfortable om this early August morning.
Across the street, kids played in the Splash Park, their moms sitting on lawn chairs beneath the shade of a tree.
Lights flashing, with Daneker behind the wheel, the partners sped off, soon to return from their call.
“He hit on the driver’s side and passenger doors,” Danker said once inside the building he had left an hour earlier. His partner remained in the car, patiently waiting to meet the young cadets.
Daneker passed photographs of his partner showing off his trophies – bricks of cocaine, marijuana and other drugs he had detected in other motor vehicle stops and searches conducted throughout Somerset County since 2014.
Om 2017, Daneker and his partner, K9 Apex, were presented an Exceptional Duty Award from Somerset County Sheriff Frank Provenzano for aiding in the confiscation of $2.9 million worth of street drugs, six firearms and over $400,000 in U.S. currency during 135 narcotics "sniffs."
Apex is an 83-pound German Shepard trained in the detection of narcotics and US currency that may contain the residue of cocaine, marijuana and other drugs that were used in transactions between dealers and buyers.
Somerville Police Officer Vito Spadea, and Detective Cole Ficarra supervise the week-long academy each summer, a five-day whirlwind that stresses the importance of discipline, self-respect, courtesy, responsibility, punctuality, citizenship and esprit d’corps. The cadets graduated on Friday.
Wearing department-issued yellow t-shirts, 33 students who will enter sixth, seventh and eighth grade at Immaculate Conception School and Somerville Middle School learned about the daily regimen of police officers on the road, what they encounter and how they handle everything from routine calls to emergencies.
The cadets also had visits from the borough’s first aid squad and fire department.
Some of the cadets were on hand at the borough’s annual Night Out Tuesday to distribute gift packs from the Somerville Police Department.
From close order drills to first aid training, the cadets were kept busy each of the five days.
Spadea and Ficarra knew some of the cadets from their time spent as the police department’s DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officers; the education program encourages interaction between local schools and police in an effort to prevent use of controlled drugs, membership in gangs, and violent behavior.
Spadea said what the cadets seem to like best is the visit with the K9.
“They love the K9, they constantly ask about that,” Spadea said.
Apex did not disappoint.
Daneker returned with the highly-disciplined dog, explaining to the cadets that Apex is not a pet, but a working dog, keen on his responsibilities and focused on the commands from his partner.
“All dogs have good noses,” he said, explaining that Apex is trained to detect the odor of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana.
Apex is called out by all of Somerset County’s municipal police departments when they suspect drugs are hidden in a car, on a suspect, or in a building.
“Apex is a great drug dog,” he added. “My job is to read his body language.”
Daneker had hidden a small quanity of drugs inside a soda machine before he entered the room with Apex. On his command, the dog began his search, circling the room until he locked in on the soda machine.
“The main thing is the experience; they’re getting to see and do things that not everybody else can,” Spadea added. “What the chief (Somerville Police Chief Dennis Manning) likes about the academy is it keeps the students connected to us; we just hope that years from now they will remember being in the youth academy as a positive experience. It goes a long way.”
Daneker learned later that day - after police had obtained a search warrant - a quantity of marijuana was found in the car Apex had "hit" on.