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Meet Michaela Kelley: Birmingham Police’s First Black Female K-9 Handler

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Birmingham police Officer Michaela Kelley is the department's first Black female K-9 handler. (PROVIDED PHOTO)

By Carol Robinson | crobinson@al.com

Michaela Kelley is a woman on a mission.

The 27-year-old Birmingham police officer just became the department’s first Black female K-9 handler, and she hopes the appointment will not only lead to making the city’s streets safer but that she’ll also be an inspiration to other young women.

“This is my city. I live here,’’ Kelley said. “I’m going to make sure I do everything I can to make the citizens safer.”

Kelley and her narcotics dog Jet, a 1-year-old black Labrador Retriever – officially hit the streets on Monday. Being a police officer, and especially a K-9 handler, is a dream come true, she said.

The daughter of a Birmingham police officer – Special Victims Unit Det. Jermaine Kelley – Kelley said she knew at a young age that law enforcement was her calling.

She attended Bottenfield Middle School and Minor High School before obtaining a criminal justice degree from Lawson State. She joined the Birmingham Police Academy in 2017, while she was in her final courses at the community college.

“It was a struggle,’’ she said, “but I’ve always known law enforcement is where I wanted to be.”

“I’ve always loved helping people for a good cause and trying to give people the answers they were looking for,’’ he said.

When she finished the academy, she was assigned to the West Precinct, where spent four years as a beat officer and a member of the West Precinct Task Force.

“As soon as I got done with the academy, I was out on the streets running,’’ Kelley said. “If it was a robbery call, I was going to it. If it was a homicide call, I was going to it. I was real big on the high priority calls, trying to get suspect information and catch some of the suspects. And I was successful.”

Two years ago, Kelley became a SWAT officer with the department’s tactical team. That assignment included search warrants, tactical calls and hostage situations.

She was the only female on SWAT at the time. “I did have some big shoes to fill because there two females before me that did an amazing job,’’ she said. “I had to continue that momentum for women.”

While in the academy, Kelley learned about the department’s K-9 Unit.

“Once I found out in the academy that Birmingham had a K-9 unit, I said, ‘That’s where I want to go,’’’ she said. “A lot of people told me it wasn’t an easy job and you’re going to have to put in a lot of hard work.”

“Usually, officers don’t get that position until after 10 plus years so it was shocking to me that I got it only six years, but I put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get that position,’’ she said.

She underwent the rigorous SWAT training, which described as, “a week-long school of 15 plus hours a day just to get you tired, to see how you operate with lack of sleep and mentally drained.”

She also began training to become a K-9 officer in 2020 but didn’t get the call until two years later that she would get the position.

Kelley learned in November that the city had approved the purchase of a new narcotics dog, and that she would be the handler.

The following month, she and a sergeant picked out Jet.

“I just fell in love with Jett the moment I saw him,’’ she said.

She and Jet then spent 30 days in Tuscaloosa training together.

“Jet has a wonky nose. His nostril looks funny, but I think that’s what helps him,’’ Kelley said. “When he picks up the odor of narcotics, he’s notifying me immediately.”

\She said being the first Black female K-9 handler means a lot to her.

“I have two young god daughters,’’ she said, “and I tell them all the time, ‘If there’s something that you want to do, forget the naysayers, if that’s what you want, you stick with it. You’re going to fail sometimes and that’s ok. Just pick yourself back up and put forth the effort to get to wherever you want to be.’’’

Her goal, she said, is to help clean up the city.

“It’s crazy how we’ll drive down First Avenue North and see people just walking like zombies and its because of the drugs that are in Birmingham,’’ Kelley said. “I’m hoping to make it safer so that we won’t get those phone calls, or you won’t get that phone call that a family member has overdosed.”

“I had a friend that died of a fentanyl overdose,’’ she said. “That right there put a soft spot in my heart to where if I can make it safer day by day. I don’t care if it’s an ounce or a pound, if I can get it off the streets it may save someone.”

Kelley has high ambitions.

“I want one day to be at least at a captain’s level or higher. I wouldn’t mind being chief,’’ she said with a smile.

“But I just want to push inclusion in the department, that goes for gender and race,’’ she said. “I want to get back to where the department is a family – it’s not going to be perfect family – but if something were to go wrong with any one of us, we could call one person but the whole department would show up for that person.”