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Law Enforcement K-9s Serve and Protect
Law Enforcement K-9s Serve and Protect
July 14, 2012
By Mary Pechar
LSPD Officer 1018, K-9 "Griff" pats the
ground to alert a drug find.
Tribune Photo/ Fred Pose
Deputy K-9 66, Jackson County Sheriff Department and Lee’s Summit Police Department Officer 1018 along with their colleagues within the other suburban law enforcement agencies are on the job and making a difference.
Deputy K-9 66, otherwise know as Bdar or affectionately by fellow deputies as “the crazy one”, and his partner Deputy Brad Norton have been together for just over two years. For Deputy Norton, this was the culmination of a life-long desire. “I have been in love with dogs forever and was always drawn to a career in K-9 law enforcement,” he said.
Likewise, Officer 1018, K-9 Griff and his partner Officer Steve Grubb have been together for about a year and a half. “It is an involved process to be selected for the K-9 unit,” said Officer Grubb. “Our policy is for the officer to have a minimal of three to five years on the job. You go through the application process which includes an interview then a board review and finally the selection process.”
The K-9s have their own extensive selection process. The man doing the selection and training in both cases was Seargant Scott Hedger with the Grain Valley Police Department. Seargant Hedger started both the GVPD K-9 unit and the Missouri Police K-9 Association which has grown to over 120 members and eight trainers. The association is recognized nationally as one of the best K-9 programs in the country.
Seargant Hedger will test from 10 to 30 dogs from all over the country before selecting one. Griff along with his litter brother Bandit, who is now with the Blue Springs Police Department, made the grade.
Each dog receives around three months of training before beginning work with their handler. The dog and handler then train together anywhere from six to eight weeks. From day one with their handler, the dog is a member of the family pack, and the bonding process begins.
As with the search and rescue dogs, the law enforcement K-9 is rewarded with toys and play. In some instances, depending on the type of search, the reward may be specific. Griff does not even need the verbal command to search for drugs. All Officer Grubb needs to do is touch the drug search reward toy and Griff understands the task at hand.
Griff was purchased for the city by Lee’s Summit Cares. They had surveyed school district students on the reasons they did not bring drugs to school. The number one reason was that the students were afraid the police dog would find it. For their part, the school district requires parents to provide a signed permission slip to search prior to a student’s car being allowed to park in school lots.
Officer Grubb shared some interesting statistics. Humans have approximately 5M olfactory cells while canines have around 250M. And even though law enforcement K-9s are not trained for discriminate trailing as the search and rescue K-9s are they still smell many levels of scent. He explained the differences in how we smell compared to how K-9s smell using pizza as an example. We smell a pizza, and even after we have eaten it, we still smell pizza. A canine smells pepperoni, cheese, basil, garlic, and onion. The K-9 tracks ground disturbance recognizing that this scent doesn’t belong.
Both dogs work amazingly fast. At a recent traffic stop, Bdar was called in to perform a drug search. While he appeared agitated while still in his patrol car, the minute he was released he was all about business. Despite the traffic and various deputies at the scene, his amazing focus kept him firmly in the right game. Bdar and Deputy Norton took a speed walk around the vehicle. While both front windows were rolled down, the side they approached last was the down wind side. In an instant Bdar alerted and had his head in the window. When allowed into the vehicle, he made a quick search and focused on a backpack on the passenger side floor. He excitedly alerted and was rewarded after drug paraphernalia was recovered.
Both handlers emphasize that they are the weak half of the team, and it is their responsibility to pay attention to what their dogs are telling them. For Deputy Norton the speed at which Bdar works makes the changes in behavior that indicate a find all the more easy to recognize.
Officer Grubb shared a story about tracking the suspect in an armed robbery. It was at night, dark and difficult to see, but knowing the suspect was armed, they kept use of their flashlights to a minimum not wanting to provide a target. At one point, Griff laid down and didn’t move. After he refused to move again, they turned some light on the scene. Griff’s suspect tracking had been interrupted by an article alert. He had found the mask the suspect was wearing.
The work of a K-9 varies. Griff may work a car stop and then be called to an Alzheimer walk off. He once handled an autism walk off in reverse. A child was found, who had not yet been reported missing.Officer Grubb instructed Griff to track the path the child had taken. Several blocks away they were within two houses when the frantic mother ran out to look for her child.
The K-9 is trained to bite and hold. This minimizes injury to the suspect and ensures that the suspect cannot escape or find protection.Griff has never bitten anyone in his two years on duty. In every case the suspect has backed down rather than risk tangling with him.
While the expense of purchasing and training a K-9 and handler is high, they are an extremely cost effective tool. For instance, at a school break-in it could take up to 10 officers to contain the building and several hours to search and clear each room. Using the K-9 reduces the number of officers required and significantly reduces the search time. The dog can instantly eliminate rooms where there has been no recent scent activity.
“We are pretty much a large team, we are a tight knit group, working and training together,” said Deputy Norton. “We have a group obedience exercise where the dogs are loose and have to walk between us and around each other.”
The majority of the surrounding communities have mutual aid agreements with each other, and the suburban communities train together on a regular basis. They have an exercise designed to encourage cooperation and acceptance, despite each dog considering themselves to be the “top dog”.
“Other exercises focus the dog on their handler,” said Officer Grubb. “We may have a dog whose favorite toy is a tennis ball. We will put him in a room full of tennis balls, but he can only have the ball thrown by his handler.”
Becoming a member of the K-9 unit is a full family discussion. Deputy Norton shared, “It isn’t just me; I couldn’t do this without the support of my wife and kids. I am on call every day. If I am not home, my wife can feed Bdar, she will brush him. It is a family commitment because the responsibility for the dog is a lot of work everyday. While you will be suspect in my home, even with my permission, my kids can ride him like a horse. I relate it to a professional athlete, I have to make sure he keeps in shape, he has a special diet, and we do obedience training everyday.”
Officer Grubb echo’s Deputy Norton’s sentiments, “This was a family decision,” he said. “Dogs are happy with a pack life; they just need to know the order. Early on, Griff needed to learn that he may be an alpha dog, but I am number one and my wife is the alpha female. We work nights and we have a routine when we come home. After we pull in the garage and Griff gets out, he runs right upstairs to check on my wife. He will root her head out of the covers and sometimes give her a kiss before he comes back downstairs to eat and take care of business.”
These are beautiful animals who are every day heroes. Depending on where you encounter them, looks could be deceiving.
Remember this: The law enforcement K-9 is trained to do a job and the squad car is their office.You approach their office; they are not going to be happy. You approach their handler and you could be in for a world of hurt.
• Don’t approach a dog, their handler or their car.
• Don’t stare straight at the dog, it will be perceived as a challenge.
•Always announce yourself and keep your distance.
•Don’t mistakenly think the deputy or office is standoffish. They are making sure their K-9 does not suspect any aggression.
As Grubb explains it, “This is the only weapon that you can recall [as a handler], and the only weapon that can’t be used against you.”
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