One police K-9 can do the work of five or six officers, said Sgt. M.A. Fridley, K-9 supervisor for the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department.
Deputies say police dogs are fundamental in narcotics detection, human tracking, apprehension and explosives detection.
While county sheriff’s departments like Raleigh and Nicholas don’t have K-9s anymore, Fayette County boasts one of the largest in southern West Virginia and is often times called out to serve surrounding counties in need.
Through their hard work and success, Niko, Riko, Boss, Wilbur and Herk have already earned the title of being five of Fayette County’s finest.
These dogs live to work, deputies say. They aren’t an option; they’re a necessity.
The Fayette County K-9 unit was inactive until 2001 when Fridley generated public donations to get it up and running again.
Today, the department is dependent on public donations to keep the dogs on the road.
The money is used toward the feeding of the dogs, training, medical expense and handling equipment.
The officers, as well as their respective K-9 partners, require constant training and annual certification through various accredited schools.
The unit is currently raising money to purchase “door poppers” — which, through a push of a button, will open an officer’s vehicle door and release the K-9 if backup is needed.
The cost ranges from $500 to $700 apiece.
Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office deputies trained with their K-9 unit dogs Wednesday morning in Boonville, running exercises to keep their dogs in top drug-detecting and command-following form.
The K-9 unit dogs live with their officers during their careers and then have the option to live with their officers in a symbolic transaction of $1, an option no officers have turned down so far, Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Davis said. Davis is in charge of the K-9 program.
“You are closer to that dog than you ever would be to a household pet,” Davis said. He has worked with K-9 dogs since 1998.
Chip Johnson, of Willits-based CJ’s K-9′s, helps to train the dogs and travels to Europe to select dogs for agencies in California and nationwide.
“It’s tough on some of the guys when they pass away,” Johnson said.
The dogs do more than sniff for drugs and accompany their human partners on the job.
“Officer safety,” Davis said, “is what we do most often with them.” The program began in 1985 and now has six dogs, he said.
In some circumstances, a deputy may find himself on the scene of a party with 50 people, for example.
“Your bodyguard is that dog,” Davis said. Other times, dogs help officers look into places they wouldn’t want to stick their own head into.
“You just do not want to stick your head past that doorway,” Davis said. “They take the fight from the bad guy and me to the bad guy and dog.”
That can mean buying enough time to get more help to the scene.
Bob Nishiyama, commander of the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force, said K9s have saved a lot of officer hours over the years by going straight to cash or drugs or confirming places where drugs have been kept.”The dogs will hit someplace where drugs used to be but are not anymore,” Nishiyama said.
Johnson, who has selected all the K-9s, travels to Holland and other European countries like the Czech Republic and Germany to find dogs that meet a department’s needs. The federal government, for example, likes small dogs for detecting bombs.
“We don’t look for the biggest dog we can find,” Davis said. The Sheriff’s Office likes something smaller than the biggest dog for longevity, Davis said.
What does Johnson look for in a K-9? “Happy dogs that will do what we ask them to do,” Johnson said, “I train happy dogs to be police dogs.”
The Sheriff’s Office dogs are also calm animals.
“Every one you could let a 3-year-old play with yet they are tough,” Davis said.
Johnson says the K-9s will be appearing for a demonstration at the upcoming Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show in Boonville.
Port City police K-9 Officer Scott Pearl and his partner Wess will head to Iowa in the very near future to compete in a United States Police Canine Association national competition.
Having just taken part in a regional competition sanctioned by the USPCA called PD-1′s over the weekend, the pair will now look to compete in Des Moines, Iowa in September 2009.
Pearl and Wess were one of three teams sponsored by the NH Police K-9 Academy and Working Dog Foundation that competed in the regional event. Wolfeboro K-9 officer James O’Brien and his partner Blek, and Methuen, Mass. K-9 officer Jeffrey Torrisi and his partner Dunkin will also accompany the local team to Iowa in the fall.
The competition is part of a general national certification that tests each team’s ability to detect a suspect, apprehend a suspect, and locate a discarded item, such as a ski mask or gun.
Additionally the teams were tested for K-9 obedience and agility.
Pearl and Wess came in first place for the “Team Overall” category, placed second in “Apprehension Novice,” third in “Suspect Search” and “Overall Open” and fourth in “Obedience Open.”
For more information on the New Hampshire Police K-9 Academy and the Working Dog Foundation visit www.workingdog.org or call 603-234-1162.
For information about the United States Police Canine Association visit www.uspcak9.com.
Newburgh Police Department officer Chad Bailey hides a plastic bag containing a small amount of marijuana in an air-conditioning vent.
“This won’t take long,” the 31-year-old man says as he puts the leash on Rex, the department’s police dog.
The German shepherd sprints into the room, barking loudly. In less than five seconds, it sniffs out the weed.
“This is one smart animal with a very good memory,” Bailey says.
Bailey and Rex will be featured at National Night Out activities on Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. along the riverfront at the Old Lock and Dam in Newburgh.
Law enforcement canines must be certified on an annual basis. Bailey had some concerns about 3-year-old Rex a few weeks ago when they went to Franklin, Tenn., for field tests.
“It was my bad, not his.”
Bailey, a jiujitsu student, tore his ACL working on some moves in September and was off the force for seven months while rehabilitating the injury.
“I couldn’t do any training with Rex at all. I mean, I was on crutches and braces for three months,” he says. “I’m always the kind of person who likes to be prepared. I felt like we went in at a distinct disadvantage. If Rex failed, I’d have to find another place to qualify and that would have been expensive.”
Bailey didn’t have to worry. Rex easily passed agility, obedience and distance-control events, finishing near the top against 30 other police dogs.
Bailey has been on the Newburgh force four years. He needs a few more classes for a criminal justice degree.
“A larger police operation might have a kennel for its dogs, but most pair the dog with a handler and they come to the station together,” Bailey says. “On my shift, I’m like any of the other officers except I have Rex in the back seat.” At home, Rex enjoys fetching tennis balls and taking long walks.
“I’m unmarried, so that helps in terms of having a police dog at home,” Bailey says, grinning. “Rex can tell it’s time for him to go to work when he sees me grab my gunbelt and handcuffs. He’s always very eager and a good judge of the situation.”
Rex is trained to sniff out methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine and heroin. He’s also good at attacking.
“Rex will basically bite the first body part that’s presented. Usually that’s on the arm or leg, but if somebody makes the decision to stick his face out, that would be the target. I’ve never heard an instance of that happening.”
Rex received 10 weeks of training before jumping into the K-9 car. The dog cost $11,000. “The force got a lot of money in donations,” Bailey says. “This one guy saw us stop a guy for narcotics in his neighborhood, watched the dog do his thing and contributed $100 on the spot.”
Bailey says Rex bit a man who wouldn’t let a woman leave her house and later tried to flee on foot. In another case, the dog grabbed hold of a man who turned down a street and attempted to run away.
“It hasn’t been necessary yet, but I have a device on my belt that will open the car door automatically if I’m not there. Should I get in a fight with someone, I can push that button and have Rex by my side in a matter of instants.”
The average life span of a dog this size is about 9 years.
“The way I feel now, I’ll sign up to be with Rex’s replacement,” Bailey says. “I’ve gotten really accustomed to having him around. It sounds funny to say, but he’s almost like a partner.”