By Holly Huffman
“I’ll be straight up,” Sgt. Denver Leverett of the Jeffersonville (Indiana) Police Department admitted. “I got into the business to lock up bad guys.”
Fans of the television show “Live PD” can certainly attest that Leverett is adept at getting the so-called “bad guys.” Leverett and his black and tan K9 cohort, Flex, have become a standouts on the hit A&E Network reality series that follows several police departments from around the country in real time.
“Live PD” premiered in October 2016 and has steadily grown a fan following. Currently, it’s one of the top-rated cable shows on Friday and Saturday nights (its March 23 episode drew over 2 million viewers according to The Nielsen Company). Its premise is simple: follow police officers from all around the country in real time as they do their job. The show typically highlights six or seven departments each airing.
The Jeffersonville Police Department joined the show’s law enforcement lineup in April 2017. While other police departments have come and gone from the show due to a perceived negative light it can shine on a community, the administration at the Jeffersonville Police Department has been supportive throughout the show’s run, citing its transparency.
Flex and Leverett’s path to becoming a celebrity crime-fighting duo began simply because Leverett volunteered to appear on camera to represent his department. And, as viewers watched the tough-but-kind officer and highly trained K9 work together, it didn’t take long for them to gain a legion of followers. One reason? Leverett’s uncanny ability to determine whether someone he is questioning is telling the truth — earning him the nickname “human lie detector.” Many times, Leverett can get potential suspects to confess within minutes due to his direct, no-nonsense interrogation style honed over 17 years of experience as an officer.
Born to be a police officer
Leverett grew up in Jeffersonville and graduated in 1995 from Jeffersonville High School. In 1999, he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana University. While at IU, he interned with the Jefferson County Police Department in nearby Louisville.
Pursuing a community service career was an easy decision for Leverett. His father was a Jeffersonville fire marshal, and his uncle served as chief of police. One cousin is now a police officer, and another is a firefighter.
“When I was younger, my uncle would allow me to come out and ride with the guys on third shift,” Leverett recalled. “I was probably 10 or 12 years old.”
After continuing to volunteer his time with the police force through high school and college, Leverett applied for a spot on the Jeffersonville Police Department. On the force officially since 2001, he is now assigned to both the drug investigation and K9 units.
Ironically, Leverett’s career path has converged with loved ones’ experiences with addictions. A year after he joined the department, Leverett’s best friend was murdered during a drug deal. Members of Leverett’s own family have encountered battles with drugs, to0. “I’ve had an aunt die of drugs, had a cousin overdose, and another cousin just got out of prison for the third time for drugs,” Leverett said. “It [the drug epidemic] has hit me in a personal way.” Because of those personal experiences, Leverett is more determined than ever to fight the drug problem.
Day in and day out on the job, he sees the effects of drugs and the opioid epidemic first hand. The Jeffersonville area has been especially hard hit by an increase in drug use and overdoses.
“I would say seven out of the 10 cars I stop are either going to have a needle, a meth pipe, meth, or heroin,” Leverett said. Many of the people Leverett comes into contact with on the job through drug arrests and other offenses are “repeat offenders.” He estimates he deals with the same 200 people 90 percent of the time.
‘I won’t get out’
In addition to joining the force to stop the “bad guys” and to help his community, Leverett’s other passion is working in the department’s K9 unit. A friend of his father formed the unit, and a young Leverett spent time volunteering to help the officers in any way he could.
Most officers on the Jeffersonville Police Department must serve two years on the force before joining a specialized unit, such as the K9 unit. However, fortune was on Leverett’s side.
After a year on the job, a K9 unexpectedly passed away, creating an opening on the unit. Leverett was quick to inquire about the vacancy, despite the two-year requirement. When no one applied for the position, the police chief at the time gave him the go-ahead to pursue a dream.
“He was like, ‘Nobody’s applied and we have a spot available. If I put you in it, there’s no you getting out,’” Leverett recalled. “I said, ‘Well, you have my word, I won’t get out.’ That was 17 years ago.”
Since then, Leverett has had four K9s at his side. Dutch, his first partner, died of old age; his second, Oz, died of bloat; and his third, Buck, passed away from sepsis two weeks after apprehending a suspect. Flex has been his partner for the past four-and-a-half years. The typical career of a K9 varies depending on the type of dog and its health.
a perfect fit
Viewers of “Live PD” know that Flex is a K9 at the top of his game. A 5½-year-old Dutch Shepard, Flex is trained in narcotics detection and criminal apprehension. He is specifically trained to alert on heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana.
Leverett and Flex are a perfect fit, similar in both temperament and execution. “He’s thorough, clear minded, and stays calm,” Leverett said. “He’s good at what he does and is detail oriented. That’s all things I am.”
Flex and Leverett are required to train twice a month for eight hours. However, Leverett works with Flex on his own time, helping him to hone his craft. Part of that training uses his instinctual drives, including the use of a tennis ball as a reward system — something that “Live PD” viewers see often on the show.
Commands given to Flex are typically in Dutch, German or Czech — such as “blibe” (stay) or “loos” (out — when Leverett wants him to release something or someone). Flex is specially trained to respond only to Leverett’s voice. Flex is called into duty on Leverett’s command, taking into account the specific situation, Flex’s safety and the public’s safety.
When not on duty, Flex is just like any other family pet. Switching between the role of K9 and “regular” dog is like a light switch, Leverett said. “He’s just a big baby at home. You’d think he’d never bite anybody. Then, when he sees me putting on my uniform, he’ll start running circles.”
When “Live PD” is filming with the department, Leverett will work Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. On those Wednesdays, the production crew (comprised of a cameraperson and a producer) rides with Leverett and Flex (as well as another officer from the department) to film tape-delayed segments that air during the live broadcasts. During the live broadcasts, 9 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday, Leverett’s shift switches from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Prior to a live broadcast, Leverett typically meets up with the production crew to have dinner and prepare for the show before patrolling begins at around 7:30 p.m. A year into their work relationship, Leverett and the crew have become friends. “They’ve all been super nice and laid back and real cool to be around,” Leverett said. “We’ve actually hung out off duty.”
Since the show is live and unscripted, Leverett — and viewers — never know what will happen. One of the most exciting on-screen moments was when Leverett and Flex had to pursue a fleeing suspect believed to be in possession of a gun. During the pursuit, the suspect jumped over several fences to elude capture. While chasing the subject, Leverett had to throw Flex over each fence as he kept track of, and captured, the suspect.
Despite dramatic moments like this caught on camera, which show that particularly dangerous suspects can be found in smaller cities, not just large metropolitan areas, Leverett points out that “Live PD” has had a positive influence on the community. One positive is a deterrence of crime on nights the show is filmed.
“They [potential criminals] know Friday and Saturday, 9 to midnight, you don’t ride around dirty (driving around with any form of illegality) in Jeff (Jeffersonville) because you’re probably going to get stopped,” Leverett explained. “From the start of the show to now, it’s been harder to catch somebody dirty and buying drugs.”
Another positive is the community policing aspect that both Leverett and Flex’s popularity have brought to the police department. Both get asked to attend various community outreach events from galas, reading to local children to participating in fundraisers.
Other perks of TV exposure include numerous gifts and cards from fans. One fan sent Leverett crocheted hats and a blanket with his picture on it for his young son.
Flex has also received gifts, including tennis balls and “pig” ears. When Leverett and Flex appeared in A&E’s New York City studio last year to serve as guest commentators for “Live PD,” Leverett was asked what type of food he feeds Flex. Shortly afterward, Purina sent Leverett a year’s supply of the dog food.
Due to his popularity, Flex even has his own Twitter account which currently has over 29,500 followers. The account is handled by Leverett’s mother, Sandy.
Looking toward the future
Though retirement isn’t in his foreseeable future, Leverett, 40, hopes to continue to serve as a mentor, even after handing in his badge, passing on his skills and experience to the younger officers on the force. “Hopefully, the young guys coming up under me will kind of take the reins and keep doing it,” he said.
When he leaves the department, Leverett would like to pursue his passion for dogs in some way. He’d also like to spend more time with his family, which he admits has been hard while serving as a police officer.
As for Flex, Leverett hopes that he can continue to be part of his family (which includes his wife and 2-year-old son) after his days on the force are done. Although Flex is considered a member of the Jeffersonville Police Department, retired K9 officers are usually allowed to remain with their human family.
For now, Flex and Leverett have more pressing things to think about than a retiree’s relaxed schedule. Leverett has paperwork to catch up on after the previous night’s drug bust. Flex is running drills. Neither of them know what the future — specifically tonight — holds for them.
It was the past — the tragedies of his loved ones’ drug experiences and his passion for stopping “bad guys” — that shaped Leverett’s present. The exposure of being on “Live PD” is icing on the cake, allowing him to project a positive image on those who protect and serve our communities.
Holly Huffman is member relations and advertising manager for Electric Consumer.