A New Leash on Life
Officer Jarred Koopman Is Back On Duty With New K-9 Partner Rico
Photographer / Michael Durr
Wednesday, November 13, 2019, is a day that will stay with Fishers Police Officer Jarred Koopman for the rest of his life. The early hours of that day, Koopman and his trusted K-9 Harlej were on the trail of a suspected drunk driver before Harlej was shot and killed in the line of duty during the pursuit.
Since then, the Fishers community has mourned the loss of K-9 Harlej with a memorial ceremony. Over the last five months, Koopman and his family have mourned, too. Officer Koopman’s wife and kids mourned the loss of a dog that was, by all means, a part of their family.
For officer Koopman, the loss of K-9 Harlej hit even deeper, shattering the normalcy of his day-to-day without a partner that had been by his side for nearly five years.
“Going back to work was hard,” Koopman says. “I just felt lost for a while. I started remembering little things that, before all of this, you just forget like when I go fill up my car at the gas station, I would always let Harlej out and people could see him. It just felt weird. I still think about him every single day. I trusted my life with this dog. You spend more time with them on the job each day almost than you do with your family. Every time I showed up to a call before another officer could get there, I had Harlej in the car beside me as my backup, my partner. It is a strong bond. As a K-9 handler, we understand the job and what could happen. I certainly appreciate it even more now.”
Today, Koopman has a new K-9 partner — Rico. The pair officially started on duty the first week of April.
For Koopman, the new partnership is bittersweet. He is happy to have another K-9 partner, and being a handler is his life’s passion in law enforcement. Still, he wasn’t sure when he would be ready again for another K-9.
“I didn’t know what to expect getting back into it,” he says. “I never once thought about walking away from the K-9 unit, but I’m really glad that I took some time away from it. Through that downtime of not having a dog, I realized even more how much passion I have for working with K-9s.”
Unlike Harlej, where Koopman says the bond there wasn’t immediate and took time to grow, the connection with Rico has been instant. Rico came through, along with three other K-9s, from overseas. Officer Koopman, who now assists in training other would-be K-9 handlers, was tasked with training some of these new K-9s in a three-week course.
Rico stood out early on in the process. After the course ended, Koopman chose Rico as his next partner.
“Our connection has been really good,” Koopman says. “It took about eight months before Harlej really trusted me when we first got on duty. Rico’s bond has been much quicker. It is exciting but it takes time. Harlej and I were in our prime when he was killed. We trusted each other completely. Rico and I are still figuring each other out.”
Today, the pair are out in Fishers on regular shifts and answering any calls when needed. Finding some of that normalcy again is a welcoming feeling for Koopman.
Koopman’s normal, though, is a brand new world for Rico, who came from Belgium. In between calls and shifts, Koopman takes the time to let Rico out, get a feel for his surroundings and his new home in Fishers and continue his training.
As for Harlej, he will always be a part of officer Koopman. The sacrifice Harlej made certainly isn’t one to be taken lightly, he says.
“Some people might not understand it or what the big deal was with (losing Harlej),” Koopman says. “Harlej took a bullet for me and other officers that day. We go out into the unknown and these K-9s lead the way. We trust them with our lives. As handlers, we share so much with them. At home, they get to be a dog and a part of your family. You don’t forget that.”
Koopman’s wife and kids still miss Harlej every day, but they are happy to welcome Rico to the family.
“I used to take Harlej on a walk every morning and my boys would come with me,” Koopman says. “They have wanted to do that with Rico too, so we have continued that tradition with him. They love Rico. My wife and the boys are really excited. With Harlej, we took it for granted a bit. As a family, obviously, you don’t ever think something bad is going to happen. I can already tell that Rico is appreciated and loved.”