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For week three we got to travel to a different location and learn more about the four legged officers of the Elk Grove Police Department, the K9 unit. As a person that has had dogs his whole life, and someone that loves dogs, this was a very interesting class. We got to meet several of the dogs, and met the Sgt. and four of the K9 officers/handlers.
The K9 unit was started in 2006 when the city of Elk Grove formed it’s own department. Sgt. Greg Tawney helped start the K9 division in 2006. He was one of the original 6 officers. He was promoted to Sgt. 2 years ago and will be retiring at the end of this year. Currently the department has 6 K9 officers and dogs. There is one assigned to each shift. On Wednesdays the officers train together with their dogs, for 8-10 hours.
The three main breeds used as K9’s are German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherd. Most of the dogs come from Europe. They are purchased from a vendor who then brings them to the US. When choosing a dog, the handlers are looking for specific traits and behaviors. They go see the available dogs and put them through testing to choose the right one. The typical cost for a police dog is $12-18K.
The dogs are high energy dogs. Probably not the type of pet dog that most of us would want because they require a lot of interaction. But they make perfect police dogs because of the work they do. It requires a lot of training and stamina. Some of the traits that handlers look for are dogs that are social but can adapt to police work. The dogs need to confident, courageous, be able to hunt and be playful. The playful part comes in because the department uses a reward based system for the dogs and the reward is a toy. The dogs want to get that toy, and will do whatever is asked of them to earn it. They need to have the drive necessary.
We got to watch a few of the dogs do some training work. They sniffed out drugs, found a “suspect” hiding in a box, and one of the officers got into the padded suit to let the dog apprehend him.
Why do they use police dogs? The dogs can save time and money. They can help find people and things, such as drugs and weapons. Their sense of smell is many times that of ours and that enables them to help locate drugs and other items. They are also used for officer safety and to help gain compliance from suspects. Most suspects decide to give up rather than face getting bit by the dog. Some however do not. The dogs are trained to bite and hold on. They are not supposed to bite and release and bite again.
The officer and their K9 partners form a tight knit team. They work together 40 hours a week. They train on their days off. Both officer and K9 go through training to work together. After a new dog is brought in, they go through several weeks of training before they are used on patrol. The officer needs to be able to trust the dog and know that it will do what it is asked, just as an officer depends on a human partner. They need that same sense of trust in their K9 partner. Not all dogs make it through training. Some are sent back. K9 Officer Miller talked about a dog that he recently had that had to be sent back after working with the dog for several months. He is now working with a new partner and training him to go on patrol in the next few weeks.
Officer Miller was also the handler for a fairly well known K9, Blu, who is now retired. Blu and Officer Miller were involved with apprehending two suspects that robbed a Jamba Juice near Home Depot in January of 2017. Miller spotted the two suspects and deployed Blu to go after the suspect. Blu slipped on the wet pavement, and one of the suspects shot Blu two times in the leg. Officer Miller returned fire, striking both suspects. Blu was transported to Bradshaw Vet Clinic. He had lost a lot of blood, but the doctors were able to save him. Blu returned to duty a few months later, but because of the shooting he wasn’t able to perform his job well enough to be a police dog. The decision was made to retire Blu and he is now living with Officer Miller and his family. Blu recently received a purple heart. Once dogs are retired the Elk Grove Police K9 Association pays for their food and vet bills. The association is funded by donations from city employees and the public. If you would like to help out you can visit their Facebook page or website.