Christopher Cooper remembers the photos and television footage of police dogs used to intimidate and attack people like him. When the St. Petersburg Police Department wanted an African-American to join the K-9 unit 15 years ago, Cooper went for it. He won the job, beating out four other black officers after a grueling tryout, says the St. Petersburg Times. Ever since, Cooper has tried to remove the stigma of police dogs among local African-Americans.
The 43-year-old father of two is still the city’s only African-American K-9 officer. He accepts that risks come with the joys. He enjoys the chase as much as he does changing attitudes. “I think over the years I’ve done a good job of letting people see K-9s in a different light,” Cooper said. “K-9s don’t have to be mean and nasty. They can be the friendliest of dogs. Or they can be the meanest, nastiest dogs.”