How to Coexist with a K-9 Unit

Unless there is animosity between SWAT and K-9, or their tactics are incompatible, they should be able to work out mutually acceptable tactics to accomplish most missions.

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The question of whether to incorporate K-9s with SWAT is without universal agreement. When it comes to SWAT and K-9, there are essentially three different schools of thought on the topic.

All or Nothing

The first school incorporates K-9 into SWAT as valuable tools for a variety of tactical operations. SWAT teams with K-9s consider K-9s invaluable resources for everything from searching confined spaces to being less-lethal options for subduing suspects. K-9s' courage and ability to ferret out hidden suspects/objects has proven effective countless times for LE agencies throughout the U.S. and Canada.

SWAT K-9s and handlers require the right temperament and special tactical training in order to become part of a SWAT team. This extra effort pays off in the form of SWAT obtaining another highly effective tool for its tool box.

The second school considers SWAT and K-9 very separate entities - not conducive to working with each other, except perhaps only collaterally to each other. This separation preference can either be because of SWAT or K-9 or both. Simply put, a number of both SWAT and K-9 teams do not believe the two are compatible.

In departments advocating this second school's belief, SWAT and K-9 rarely ever work together during tactical operations. Another result is these agencies consider SWAT and K-9 separate entities - and must determine which one to call out for missions.

What's crystal clear is both of the above schools of thought are adamant in their beliefs - that their way is not only the best way, but also the only way.

Take it as it Comes

The third school of thought is somewhere in between the two preceding opposing viewpoints. Oftentimes, the reason is simple practicality -- as in agencies without SWAT or K-9, or sometimes neither of them. These agencies are usually small in size and lack the specialized resources of larger agencies. Therefore, they take whatever help they can get whenever they can get it and don't tend to have specific policies regarding the use of SWAT and K-9 units, with varying levels of success.

During large, tactical operations smaller agencies are often overwhelmed with outside assistance - including SWAT and K-9 - from any number and variety of LE agencies. The task of coordinating such different agencies, each with its own different concepts, can be a daunting, difficult task for any incident commander.

There are other LE agencies that, for different reasons, subscribe to this third SWAT and K-9 school of thought. Theirs is a hybrid view of SWAT and K-9 working together as needed - and not necessarily with any pre-determined tactics or training. Tactics are usually hurriedly made up during briefings - and oftentimes on scene.

Coordinate to Make it Work

Which of these three schools of thought do I subscribe to? Which school is best? My answer is - it's situational. That is, it's up to each agency, especially that agency's SWAT and K-9 teams, to make that determination.

My belief is each SWAT and K-9 team must determine what's best for them. Yet I also strongly believe that somehow, some way SWAT and K-9 should be working together - at least enough to determine who will do what when, in some capacity that's mutually acceptable to both.

I very strongly believe the mission always comes first. And to not use a valuable, available resource to accomplish a mission doesn't make sense. Unless there is animosity between SWAT and K-9, or their tactics are incompatible, they should be able to work out mutually acceptable tactics to accomplish most missions.

Admittedly, this will take time and effort, and training, by both SWAT and K-9 units. However, the reward will be SWAT and K-9 both on the same tactical page when an incident requires response from both units.

Areas of Responsibility

SWAT tactics are about "areas of responsibility." It's when these areas blur together with non-SWAT personnel that problems occur. SWAT counts on knowing precisely how each officer will act in all situations - the result of countless hours of training and teamwork.

Non-SWAT personnel, including K-9, often haven't worked with SWAT enough to be considered part of the team. While SWAT prefers to handle all aspects of all missions, the reality is many SWAT teams don't have enough personnel to do so. The result is non-SWAT officers are needed to supplement SWAT.

When this happens and non-SWAT officers aren't familiar with SWAT tactics and expectations, plans and tactics begin to go awry. The simple and easy solution is to get everyone on the same page - before incidents occur.

SWAT and K-9 are complementary to each other, and it seems to me that somehow, someway, they should be able to work out mutually acceptable tactics. By doing so, they ensure critical operations are handled in an optimum manner - by SWAT and K-9 working as one.

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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