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Getting the Most Out of K-9 Units

Give handlers and their dogs what they need so they can do their job.

December 19, 2011  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

On the flip side, however, there are many times when an officer spots the suspect in his or her area of responsibility and calls it out on the radio. The last one I can recall as watch commander before moving to Special Operations was during a robbery. The bad guys held back and tried to slip out onto a main drag, driving normally while hiding in the open. A perimeter unit recognized the car, let it pass as if nothing was going on, and then orchestrated a felony stop before the suspects could realize what was happening.

Crime Scene Protection

Crime scene protection is also critical. You need to respond, assess the situation, and react accordingly. Once things calm down and you know what's going on, you need to lock down the scene. That means keeping everyone out until the K-9 unit is done. That's right, you heard me. No, you can't interview and get your witness statements inside; no, you can't start processing the scene; and no, you can't touch anything that could be considered a scent article. Look at it this way: You can't be a little pregnant. You either take calling out K-9 seriously or you don't.

If you do call them out, then you can wait on some of these other tasks until the K-9 unit is done. The goal is to catch the bad guy, not for you to finish your paperwork expeditiously. We really need to change our mindset regarding K-9 units. If you call them out you need to treat every scene as a major incident. If you wouldn't contaminate a homicide scene that is basically over, why would you contaminate a crime scene that is still in progress?

The Radio

There is no bigger pet peeve of mine, outside of officer safety issues, than misuse of the radio. It's a supervisor's eternal fight. If K-9 is on a track, then everyone but K-9 should be quiet, unless someone spots the suspect. It never fails; when an alert tone goes out, some insidious chromosome kicks in and everyone involved gets diarrhea of the mouth. Acknowledge and go. Set up your perimeter and when the K-9 unit gets there and starts its track, the radio is theirs. If you are lucky to have Aviation respond, then radio traffic belongs to the K-9 unit and the air asset.

Do all of your admin-type talking on another channel. Keep the radio clear for updates on possible suspect location. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have had to admonish someone for some totality non-essential radio communication on the primary channel while K-9 was on a track. Some of the biggest violators are command staff. Wouldn't it be nice if we could get away with telling one such radio traffic abuser, "No, sir. I don't have an update for you because if I did, I would have told you already. If you'd listen to the radio, then you'd know what I know."

A Note on Being a Cover Officer

A K-9 handler and dog should never run alone. Either have a K-9 officer go with them on a track, or a patrol officer has to be assigned from those on duty. Being a cover officer during a K-9 track is serious business. If you get volunteered but are not in shape, don't run with K-9. If you don't want to get wet crossing a canal, don't run with K-9; if you don't want to go hands-on with the suspect, don't run with K-9; and my favorite, if you are afraid of dogs, don't run with K-9.

My preference is to have another K-9 officer run as cover officer. But, that's a luxury and one that doesn't always happen.

You just can't tell some poor sap, "Hey, you! Run with K-9!" The officer has to know some ground rules. It takes some training and hopefully your agency periodically addresses it during roll call training or other training opportunities. For example, stay close but behind the K-9 handler. Don't backlight the handler at night with your flashlight. If the dog turns around and starts heading in your direction, stand perfectly still until he moves away from you again. And, if the K-9 is let off lead and he is running in your direction, freeze. When K-9s are in that mode, they really don't know you are the good guy. It's movement they are looking for. Ask any officer who has been bitten before and you will find that for the most part the officer was in the wrong spot, doing the wrong thing, at the wrong time.

Work Together

K-9 teams are an excellent resource if used properly. But we have to make sure the rest of us are following the basics of Cop 101 when we call them out. The best K-9 team in the world will still have trouble finding a suspect if we screw up the perimeter and crime scene.

I suggest that you get with your handlers and find out what it is they need from you. I also suggest attending their training from time to time. Watch firsthand what they do and how they do it. Riding with them as part of a job-shadowing program will be beneficial as well. And finally, don't complain about your K-9 unit never finding anyone. It's not as easy as you think. If you take the time to review your K-9 unit's actual stats, you may think differently. Besides, it's not like the movies, even though some of us do look like we need to put less butter on our popcorn.

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has 24 years of law enforcement experience, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.

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Tags: K-9 Units, Best Practices, Manhunts, Communications, Building Searches


Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

Grant Sullivan @ 12/29/2011 3:23 PM

I have been in K-9 for going on 21 years and I am a K-9 Instructer and handler, handling my 4th. patrol dog and it does not change. We as K-9 handlers have tried going to Patrol Districts roll calls and giving some in service training and conducting training for recruits, in the past. The latest attempt in setting up training for recruits, by K-9 Trainers in the in the academy was stopped by the Commander of the academy telling me that he did not need K-9 people to conduct that training, that his instructers could do that. This being said, I don't think things are going to change in my department and when a K-9 team does not have a positive outcome of a search, whether it be a building search or an article search, it is seen by the patrol officers on the scene, that their is no need to call K-9 because they can't find anything, when most of the time the negative search by K-9 is poor containment of the scene.

Sgt Koepke @ 1/1/2012 11:45 PM

Another good article. Thanks Amaury.

Amaury amurgado @ 1/4/2012 4:07 AM

@Grant: I hear you loud and clear. We all share the same battles with pencil pushers and bean counters that make terrible decisions because they either have forgotten or have no clue about what it takes at the operator level. I say this to you Grant; keep trying anyway. Fight the good fight all the way up to retirement. If not people like you then who? Thanks for your comments, author.

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