Training, certification for K-9 units in Vincennes; public demonstration at Inman Field on Sept. 26
Local K-9 units supported only with donations
By Bernie Schmitt
Law enforcement officers from throughout the United States and Canada will converge on Vincennes Sept. 24 -28 for the American Police Canine Association Nationals.
The week-long event which will provide training for law enforcement personnel and their canine partners, will feature a free demonstration at Inman Field on Sept. 26. The event is sponsored by Knox County Sheriff Mike Morris, the Knox County Sheriff’s Department, and the Vincennes Police Department.
Local law officers have been raising money and doing the logistical planning to once again bring the APCA Nationals to Vincennes. The city hosted the Nationals in 2014 and in 2012.
The public demonstration will allow people to see how police dogs and their handlers do their work. But it is the training that will take place at a variety of local venues, and the certification of K-9 units, that is the focus of the week-long session.
“It’s a great event for people to see, and it’s also an economic benefit because it brings money into the community,” said Bill Poe, a reserve deputy sheriff for Knox County, and one of the organizers for the event.
“We’re not exactly sure how many will be here, but there were 137 officers at Bedford last year,” he said. “The organization itself has 550 members and it continues to grow.”
This year’s event will feature several training opportunities, including basic and advance problem-solving, tactical scenario training, classroom instruction, and APCA certifications, according to the organization’s website.
An officer’s partner
A dog trained for police work becomes the police officer’s partner, said James Wehrman, deputy for the Knox County Sheriff’s Department. The dogs are with the officer at work and at home. They are cared for by the officers, and sometimes the officer’s family members. The dogs are well-trained, obedient, and know when it’s time to work — but only with their partners.
“Another officer cannot come in and work with or take any dog,” said Officer Mike Caswell of the Vincennes Police Department. “The dog and the officer are a team.”
Communication with the animals is important, Poe said, because protocol has to be followed as to the circumstances and timing of when dogs are called into use. Because such work is often dangerous, the dogs and officers must be in sync and communication is the key.
“If you’ve allowed the dog to go after someone, but they give up, you have to call the dog off, and the dog has to listen,” he said. “That’s part of the training.”
Wehrman said the dogs are the best deterrent against crime. But, like their human handlers, dogs must follow the law. There are standards that both have to follow when engaged in enforcing the law or trying to apprehend offenders.
“There’s a lot of work and time involved,” he said. “Dogs have to follow the Constitution and law just like us. We have to make sure of that.”
Dogs and officers (they must train together) get a minimum of 16 hours of training a month. The K-9 units from Vincennes and Knox County typically go to Bedford twice each month for that training. This is in addition to the initial training dogs get in the beginning, which varies in length.
“It depends on the dog,” Wehrman said. “Some are in and out in three weeks, sometimes longer. Some dogs already have it.”
It also depends on the kinds of certifications being sought. Some of the local dogs are trained to do everything from sniffing out narcotics and explosives, to searching and tracking down missing people or criminals. Narcotics training for a dog, for instance, takes around three weeks. Training for other certifications, such as patrol school, takes five weeks.
K-9s worth the expense
Police dogs are bred for this work, and they are expensive. A dog can cost $7,000 or more. Kody Waggoner, a K-9 officer with the Vincennes Police, said up to $18,000 or more can be spent on one police dog. The largest expense aside from the dog itself is training. Then there is veterinary care, and equipment, and vehicles outfitted to carry the dog.
“The thing is you pay all the up-front costs for a dog, but don’t always know it will work out,” Waggoner said.
His career in law enforcement changed, Waggoner said, after seven years on the force. There is more to think about when working with his K-9 partner, and more standards and rules to follow.
“We go out on normal patrols,” Waggoner said. “But there are certain things that can and cannot be done.”
Most of the time, though, the money is well-spent. Waggoner’s dog, K-9 Sara, and Caswell’s dog, K-9 Gary, are Czech shepherds. Wehrman’s dog, K-9 Xraith, is a German shepherd. Poe’s dog, K-9 Echo, is a Belgian malinois.
Dogs can sniff out narcotics, explosives, and help find missing people if they have a scent from a person’s clothing. In one incident Poe’s dog sniffed out narcotics in a stopped vehicle and three people ultimately went to jail. In another incident, Caswell’s dog would not leave a storm drain.
“We responded to a call about a guy who reportedly was shooting a gun in the street,” he said. “A dog’s nose is incredible. This dog would not leave the storm drain for anything. When I got down there to look, I found shell casings from the gun the guy was firing.”
Money to support the local K-9 units (Knox County Sheriff’s Department and Vincennes Police) does not come from local government or taxpayers. K-9 units are supported entirely with donations from the public.
The free demonstration event at Inman Field is hoped to educate people on the work K-9 units do, but to law enforcement officers hope it will also elicit donations to maintain a K-9 presence in Vincennes and Knox County.
“The demonstration can show the public what these dogs do,” Wehrman said. “The dog is another police officer, a partner. My back-up is in the back seat of the car.”