A K-9 Unit Has Benefits for Police Departments and Communities Alike

A police K-9 unit is instrumental in myriad missions, including drug enforcement, search and rescue, fugitive apprehension, and of course, public relations. So when a K-9 is injured or killed, they are treated with nearly as much reverence and respect as when a police officer suffers a similar fate.

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Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt presents K-9 Pyro and his handler—Officer Scott Salzmann—with a very rare 'Key to the City' for his heroic action and for his service to the Green Bay community.Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt presents K-9 Pyro and his handler—Officer Scott Salzmann—with a very rare "Key to the City" for his heroic action and for his service to the Green Bay community.Image courtesy of Green Bay Police Department / Facebook. 

The police K-9 has a unique impact on the community. These animals serve myriad missions, from drug enforcement to search and rescue to apprehending fleeing subjects. They are also ambassadors of the department, appearing at special events for protective and also public relations purposes. They take down criminals and break down barriers between the police and the public.

This is evidenced by the fact that every time a K-9 is injured or killed, they are treated with nearly as much reverence and respect as when a police officer suffers a similar fate. The public outpouring of support can be staggering.

Earlier this week, we reported on the brutal attack on a K-9 with the Green Bay Police Department that was stabbed multiple times on Saturday night.

K-9 Pyro and his handler—Officer Scott Salzmann—were responding to a call about a man with a gun when the assailant produced a knife and began repeatedly stabbing the dog.

Pyro was transported to a nearby hospital where he underwent initial surgery. He was then taken to a veterinary clinic for additional treatment.

The agency posted multiple updates to its Facebook page, providing the public with as much information as possible on the condition of the animal. Comments from citizens were universally supportive.

Several days after the attack, Pyro and Salzmann received a visit from Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt and Police Chief Andrew Smith during which the mayor presented Pyro with a "Key to the City" for his heroic action and for his service to the Green Bay community.

Dozens of fundraising efforts to help pay for Pyro's medical expenses quickly sprouted up in Titletown and the surrounding suburbs.

This is just the most recent example of how a K-9 helps galvanize police supporters and the police who serve them.

There was the story of K-9 Liberty, the 9-week-old Bloodhound puppy set to begin training in search-and-rescue operations for the Bradenton (FL) Police Department. The agency opened up to the public the naming process, receiving dozens of suggestions from eager citizens.

Late last month we ran the news of a woman in Indiana who donated a bullet-resistant vest to a department's K-9 when she learned that the agency couldn't afford to equip the animal with the potentially life-saving gear.

There are countless other examples.

Myriad Missions Accomplished

So what is it about the police K-9? Well for starters, K-9s are undeniably cute. While serving the purpose of providing security at large-scale events such as festivals, parades, and other gatherings, the K-9 is a magnet for kids and kids-at-heart.

"Can I pet your dog?" is perhaps the most common question a handler hears during their career.

Further, K-9s are routinely credited with finding lost children or at risk elderly individuals who have wandered from home. A K-9 in Virginia recently found two lost 8-year-old children within 15 minutes of looking. Such heroics are commonplace, but in nearly every case, the local news media pounces on the "feel good story," shedding positive light on the department.

"Maintaining a K-9 program is expensive and very time consuming and that is why many agencies the size of the Powhatan Sheriff's Office do not have one. But incidents like last night's two 8 year old children being lost in the woods are why the Sheriff keeps the program going strong," the Sheriff's Office said on Facebook.

Of course, these dogs also have teeth, and the last thing a fleeing subject wants to have is a tenacious K-9 latch onto a limb and drag him or her to the ground. Those who don't submit to commands to comply will spend a little time at the hospital getting a couple puncture wounds stitched up. But those holes won't have been made by a bullet, making the K-9 one of the most effective less-than-lethal assets available to police.

Back in the day, just about every squad car marked K-9 had a "Bite Book" in the trunk of the vehicle. Handlers would proudly share with other officers their collection of Polaroid phots of the various bites their K-9 partner inflicted on fleeing suspects. Not many handlers keep a "Bite Book" anymore, but they all have some stories to tell about resistive subjects taken into custody with a dog attached to them.

A Worthwhile Investment

As was mentioned by Powhatan Sheriff's Office, getting a K-9 Unit up and running—and keeping it running—is no small feat. Nor is it inexpensive. These animals can cost as much as $10,000 up front. There is also the expense of training the dog and its handler—a process that can take several months and cost thousands of dollars.

Then there is insurance to be paid, both for the animal's health as well as potential liability from lawsuits against the agency in the event that something goes wrong.

Then there is the specialized patrol vehicle. Some agencies have to purchase an entirely new vehicle, while others may elect to modify an existing car to carry the dog as opposed to an arrested individual. Either way, this isn't cheap. The K-9 Unit also requires a variety of specialized equipment such as training sleeves, leashes, harnesses, and a bullet-resistant K-9 vest.

Finally, there are the regular vet visits and the high-quality food the dog will require for not just the duration of its service, but for several years after the animal is retired.

But these investments are almost universally found to be worthwhile. In areas where a squad car marked K-9 is on regular patrol, crimes such as home invasions, burglaries, and car break-ins frequently go down. Police K-9s help to get dangerous criminals off the street. Police K-9s are credited with the seizure of many hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal narcotics. Police K-9s are invaluable in search-and-rescue operations, finding people who might otherwise have died alone in the wilderness. K-9s can locate secreted explosives and firearms. And of course, there is the public relations benefit of having that four-legged partner walking the beat.

It's important to note that not all K-9 Units are in the crime-fighting business. There is an increasing trend toward getting animals specially trained as comfort dogs. These animals can be instrumental in aiding an agency's Crisis Intervention Team in dealing with emotionally disturbed individuals as well as with investigators interviewing victims of crime who are distraught over their traumatic experience. Some agencies are even getting comfort dogs to help with officer stress and PTSD.

Working animals—particularly dogs—have the ability to accomplish multiple missions. The value of adding a K-9 Unit to an agency cannot be overstated.

If your agency doesn't have a K-9 Unit, it may be a worthy discussion next time the annual budget is set.

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