The K-9 Unit is a community orientated, professional police service. These same fearless, hard working partners are among the most popular Police Department ambassadors to the public during gatherings and events. They serve the community by hosting K-9 demonstrations at civic events, schools, and other public venues.
No matter what type of community you live in, a K-9 Unit can be an effective member of a police force. Understand that the police working dog does not replace a patrol person — rather, it is an additional “tool” in the fight on crime.
The value of these canines to their department is immeasurable. The additional safety that they provide to the officers and public cannot be understated.
These dogs have the ability to search buildings, access small spaces, and provide protection for their handler and other officers in dangerous situations.
K-9 Faro of the San Rafael PD successfully finds a "perp" during his K-9 training on July 12, 2013. Photo courtesy of the San Rafael K-9 Police K-9 Association.
K-9s on Patrol
Many K-9 teams go on regular patrol with their partners. Even while on patrol, they are always prepared to be called on for assistance by other officers, and sometimes even other surrounding communities. Many K-9 Units may patrol the areas of high crime and be implemented in a select enforcement program, to deter and combat serious crime.
Police K-9 provide a resource to patrol officers and investigators to assist in the detection and arrest of suspected criminals, and to locate contraband, evidence and lost or missing persons. The K-9 Unit also provides a unique psychological deterrent to violence.
A number of years ago, the Yarmouth Massachusetts Police Department started their unit with three K-9 teams. During the first year, the unit worked hard in reducing the number of break-ins in their business sectors. At the end of the first year of having the K-9 unit, the rate of break-ins decreased by 80%.
K-9s Most Powerful Asset
The police working dog is used for its superb sense of smell. Over 90% of the work that the K-9 does is with its nose, not its mouth. The K-9′s superb sense of smell is many times greater than the human. They can travel and clear an area much quicker than we can.
When a properly trained police work dog is utilized to search a building for a person, the K-9 uses its keen sense of smell first, then its sense of hearing and lastly their eyes.
Humans rely on what we see or hear when searching for an intruder. We cannot search areas or rooms where doors are locked. K-9s do not need to open doors to determine if someone is hiding behind it. They simply smell the door seams. They do not need flashlights to look into dark areas to locate suspects.
In a study of Police Canine Search Teams done by Officer Marie Wolfe of the Lansing Police Department, police K-9 Units were compared to officer units (2-4 officers) to perform building searches for hidden “suspect(s)”. The results showed that the police K-9 units outperformed the officers in terms of time required to search buildings and in accuracy of locating the “suspects.”
The conclusion of this showed “the utilization of trained police canine teams for building situations can represent a considerable benefit for police agencies (through a reduction in officers’ time spent to search various locations), as well as a reduction in the fear of crime (through an enhanced apprehension rate of criminals).
As the building size increases, the canine teams’ time savings, accuracy and subjective reported certainty, far surpasses that of searching officers teams. When coupled with the safety factor, the utilization of canine teams is an outstanding addition to police agencies.
Commitment and Training of the K-9 Team
Most dogs are trained in basic obedience and tested for their abilities. After further evaluation by training agencies, dogs that make the cut are ready to be paired with a handler after they reach the age of about 15 months.
Although the K-9s are well trained when selected by a Police Department, many will continue their training with their handlers, for anywhere from 5 to 12 weeks, after they are teamed up and need to pass state certifications — before they are ready to hit the streets.
Training continues for the working life of the dog. Most K-9 officers conduct weekly training to maintain their proficiency in searching and apprehension, and to maintain their specific competencies; which is either explosive or drug detection.
The officers involved have a strong commitment to the program and this assignment is one of the longest in many departments. Not only are the dog and handler together constantly at work, the dogs also live with the family of the handler. At home, these dogs act like ordinary family pets. However, once his handler puts him in the car for the trip to work, the dog’s demeanor changes. The dogs seem to have a sense of when they will be required to assist their partner and they look forward to coming to work.
Cost and Expected Care of a K-9
The working life of a police canine is approximately seven to nine years.
The initial purchase of the dog can vary and be costly. It can include the training the canine receives, prior to being selected by a handler. With most K-9 teams, there is additional training for handler and canine as a team, which varies from 6 to 14 weeks.
Other associated costs for the canines include food and veterinary costs for the care and health of the dog, as well as the cost and installation of an outdoor kennel for the dog.
Other costs to consider are the cost of the bullet proof vest, a heat alarm, along with the possible conversion of a patrol vehicle. Additional costs include training equipment such as aggression sleeves, blank ammo, leashes, tracking harness, collars, muzzle, etc.
Your contribution will greatly help to alleviate the costs of acquiring highly-trained K-9 dogs.