Apollo the Dog Sniffing a White Van

The Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office (VBSO) has welcomed a new four-legged member to its ranks, partnered with the office’s first woman K9 handler.

Apollo, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, and his handler, Master Deputy Crystal Repass, a 16.5-year veteran of the VBSO, passed their first narcotic detection certification today through the Virginia Police Work Dog Association (VPWDA). The certifiers remarked that the pair displayed efficiency and accuracy in all areas of their evaluation, which included screenings of building interiors, vehicles, luggage/parcel screenings and couriers. Repass and Apollo successfully completed each search area, with Apollo and alerting to ecstasy, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana and cocaine.

In addition to the five certifiable drug odors, Apollo is also trained to recognize fentanyl, a highly lethal narcotic that has caused thousands of deaths in Virginia and many more nationwide. The VPWDA does not have a fentanyl-certification process at this time.

“We are thrilled to welcome K9 Apollo and Master Deputy Crystal Repass to our K9 team. Together they will further our efforts to protect the jail and the community from drugs, including this deadly opioid, and demonstrate the VBSO’s commitment to diversity within the ranks,” said Sheriff Rocky Holcomb. “Apollo’s specialized training and exceptional abilities will undoubtedly assist in our mission to keep drugs out of the jail and off the streets. And they will play a crucial role in our efforts to detect and intercept fentanyl, potentially saving countless lives.”

The VBSO acquired Apollo from within its ranks. VBSO couple Sgt. Nancy Bass and Master Deputy Joe Bass breed Belgian Malinois and donated the dog last year. With Apollo’s keen sense of smell, remarkable agility and high level of training, he is poised to become an invaluable asset in the fight against fentanyl and other drugs. His keen olfactory senses allow him to locate even the smallest quantities of fentanyl, which often elude human detection.

Repass has been with the VBSO since October 2007 and has a passion for working with dogs. During her tenure with the VBSO, in addition to her extensive training in canine handling, she has worked in Correctional Operations, Intake/Release and Civil Process. She was also one of Virginia Beach Neptune Festival’s Hometown Heroes in 2023.

“We are ecstatic to have Master Deputy Crystal Repass as the newest member of the K9 Unit,” said Holcomb. “She brings a wealth of experience to the position and will be a great asset to the team.” Her appointment not only exemplifies progress within the law enforcement profession, but also serves as an inspiration for women aspiring to make a difference in their communities.”

The team’s training took approximately six months. After Tuesday’s certification, their jobs will include conducting searches of the Virginia Beach Correctional Center and public spaces, when requested, and assisting other law enforcement agencies with narcotics investigations.

"I am honored to be the first woman dog handler at the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office,” said Repass. “I am passionate about protecting and serving our community, and working with K9 Apollo will allow me to use my skills and dedication in a new and impactful way."

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid exponentially more potent than heroin, has wreaked havoc across Virginia and the country. In Virginia, fentanyl deaths have increased 20-fold since 2013, causing 1,951 deaths and in 2022, according to the latest statistics from the Virginia Department of Health.

The VBSO has been working to combat the opioid epidemic by implementing training for staff, equipping them with Naloxone to quickly reverse overdoses and working with its law enforcement partners. Apollo is another tool in that fight.

“Apollo highlights the importance of taking innovative approaches to law enforcement and demonstrates the VBSO’s commitment to adapt and respond to evolving public safety concerns,” said Holcomb.

The VBSO K9 Unit started in 2013 with one canine and one handler. It has since grown to three K9s and three handlers. In addition to Apollo, they are K9 Gaston, a 7-year-old German shepherd certified in explosives detection, and K9 Pablo, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois certified in drug detection. The narcotics K9s can locate cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines (meth), ecstasy and more. Their handlers are Sgt. Aaron Whitehead, a certified K9 trainer partnered with Gaston, and Master Deputy II Anthony Natalzia, partnered with Pablo.

To be connected with Opioid Recovery and Treatment Services, call (757) 385-6956 or email VBOpioidtx@vbgov.com .

For more information or for news media interested in meeting K9 Apollo and MD Repass on Wednesday, Jan. 24, for interviews, photos and/or video, contact Public Information Officer Toni Guagenti at (757) 373-5012 or tguagenti@vbso.net .