K-9 unit officer earns top honor

Commended: A seven-year police department veteran is named county Officer of the Year.

March 27, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Pfc. Timothy Wiley enjoys the limelight about as much as his canine partner likes to be left behind on a police call, so he looked at his feet and smiled shyly while he talked yesterday about his selection as Howard County Police Officer of the Year for 2001.

"This is not my kind of thing, but I'm very honored and appreciative," Wiley said in an interview.

The K-9 unit officer was given the department's top honor at a ceremony last night during which, to his relief, he did not have to give an acceptance speech.

The award comes about six months after Wiley found his name thrust forward in less-happy circumstances. On Sept. 10, he fatally shot a North Laurel man who police said was trying to break into his parents' Columbia home.

Wiley, a seven-year veteran, faced no criminal charges or Police Department sanctions for killing Harold Clifton Schwartz, 43. Police said Schwartz was armed with a razor blade and refused to comply with orders to show his hands.

"Of course you think about it - anybody would," Wiley said of the shooting. "It drives home the fact that you never know what will happen."

Wiley acknowledged that case and another confrontation with an armed suspect April 1 likely affected his nomination.

"I'm sure those high-profile incidents played a role," Wiley said. "But the only way a K-9 handler can get an award like this is based on the people on the road who call for you to support them."

Capt. Nancy Yeager and Sgt. Robert Castor said they made no mention of the Sept. 10 shooting when they nominated Wiley. Both said they singled out Wiley because of his work ethic and humble attitude.

"Tim is just as active as his peers, but he's much more likely to recognize someone else than to seek recognition for himself," Castor said. "It's really a keystone of his personality."

The nine-person police commendations board, a mix of civilians and sworn officers of almost every rank, selected Wiley from among six nominees, including another K-9 officer.

Police Chief Wayne Livesay, who is not part of the board, said he was "honored to have a person of [Wiley's] caliber working for the department."

"I wish we had 100 more Tim Wileys," Livesay said.

Wiley, 35, is the third K-9 officer in the 34-year history of the police awards to be named Officer of the Year. Officer Wayne Ridgely was selected in 1969 and Pfc. Edward Sprinkle - now a police sergeant - won in 1995.

Gasto (pronounced "GAH-stah"), a 5 1/2 -year-old black German shepherd, shares Wiley's award. The two have worked together for four years, and neither has ever had another partner.

"He was green, I was green," Wiley said. "It was a perfect match."

Two years ago, Wiley and Gasto were retrained to use a bark-and-hold apprehension technique instead of the bite-and-hold method still common in police departments.

The pair first used the new technique last April, Wiley said, when they tracked an intoxicated man who police said had fired his weapon at children in a wooded area of Elkridge.

Gasto picked up a scent, and the man, armed with a 9 mm handgun, was arrested without incident. Wiley received a silver star commendation last night for that arrest.

When Wiley and Gasto are not working the day shift, they spend time at their Ellicott City home with Wiley's wife, Kim, and two children, Shannon, 4 1/2 , and Craig, 1 1/2 .

"Gasto does very well at home, but it's clear he would rather be working," Wiley said.

The dog prefers the back of a police car to the back yard and gets excited when he hears the tones for a robbery in progress come over the police radio, Wiley said.

Wiley said he wants to continue as a K-9 officer until Gasto retires. Until then, he cannot be promoted above his current rank.

"[Wiley] makes sure other officers understand how to use the K-9 unit and that he's always available to them," Yeager said. "He's an informal leader."

Last night, Livesay also presented commendation certificates to five other Officer of the Year nominees: Cpl. Tyrone Queen of the special assignment unit, Dfc. Michele Scheiner of the criminal fraud/forgery unit, Dfc. Leeza Grim of the vice/narcotics unit, Pfc. Kenneth Joubert Jr. of Northern District patrol and Pfc. Patrick Eckley of the K-9 unit.

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