Just like all members of law enforcement, police dogs work under intense pressure and dangerous conditions. And, like their human counterparts, K9 Officers require competent training, continued support and some good old-fashioned love and affection.
Before becoming a well-respected member of the K9 Officers club, these brave and intelligent dogs undergo rigorous training, where patience, understanding, and commitment are hallmarks. And, although police dogs are often engaged in serious, sometimes life-threatening work, these amazing animals are also family pets that require some well-deserved downtime.
Trained to assist local, federal, and even international law enforcement personnel, K9 Officers are a valuable component to any well-functioning crime prevention operation.
Here’s an overview of some interesting aspects of K9 Officers and their role in our society.
Police Dogs in the United States
Throughout the United States, the use of K9 Officers is widespread in federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. These skilfull dogs are generally utilized for two distinct purposes – bomb, narcotic and weapon detection, and cadaver recovery. Many types of dogs are used in police work; however, the most prevalent breeds are German shepherds and Belgian Malinois.
Federal police dogs are rarely in public view, except for the occasional K9 Officer sniffing some luggage with a TSA agent at an airport. In addition to the TSA, the majority of federal police dogs are used for tactical operations with the FBI, ATF, and the US Marshals Service. Federal tactical dogs are oftentimes the most highly specialized K9 Officers in existence.
The visibility of police dogs in state and local law enforcement agencies is much different. And that’s because the dogs are part of the community and are found in virtually every police department, both big and small. Some rural departments will have only one K9 Officer, whereas large metro departments might have dozens of police dogs.
Generally, K9 Officers are mainly used for apprehending a perp or detecting drugs. Often, large police departments will have entire K9 teams dedicated to one purpose such as cadaver recovery, while also having an elite group of individual dogs that have highly specialized training for a singular purpose.
Though it is a serious crime to attack or kill a K9 Officer, the penal repercussions are not generally as severe as those for harming or killing a police officer. Speaking of prison, police dogs are often used to break up large scale fights or riots and are vital in hunting down escaped convicts.
United States Police Canine Association (USPCA)
As the oldest and largest K9 Officer organization in America, the USPCA has been training and certifying police dogs since 1971. Police dogs are trained in bodyguarding, tracking, drug and explosive detection, arson investigation, and fish and game duties.
The organization has trained dozens of dog breeds ranging from Retrievers to Shepherds to Bloodhounds. Each year, police dogs compete for the coveted title of National Champion. After the regional winners are chosen, the national event is held where the dogs compete in field trials, which put the dogs’ tracking, detecting and protection skills to the test.
Brave and Renowned K9 Officers
Known for playing alongside Jim Belushi in the buddy cop comedy “K9,” Koton was originally a police dog with the Kansas City PD, where he gained fame by discovering 10 kilograms of cocaine, with a 1980s street value of $1.2 million. After his stint in Hollywood, Koton went back to police work where he sadly lost his life when he was shot trying to apprehend a wanted cop killer.
In March 2014, this California K9 Officer was shot in the face while in hot pursuit of an armed suspect. The criminal was eventually apprehended, and the police officers involved in the arrest credit Bruno with the collar. Bruno unfortunately died several months later due to complications arising from the shooting.
K9 Officers and the Supreme Court
Over the past 40 years, the use of police dogs has dramatically risen. And with the increase in usage, there has been increased scrutiny. Several important US Supreme Court decisions have been handed down over the years that specifically address evidentiary issues that arise due to police dogs.
United States v. Place
In this seminal case, the Supreme Court held that an exterior luggage sniff by a trained police dog is not considered a “search” under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. This was an extremely important decision because most “searches” by the police require a search warrant. But this ruling carved out an exception whereby a police dog could sniff someone’s luggage, to detect drugs or bombs, without a search warrant.
Florida v. Jardines
In this case, the Supreme Court placed a limit on warrantless drug sniffing by police dogs. Here, police in Miami were alerted to a large scale marijuana grow house. So, the police sent the dog to the front porch, whereby he detected drugs. Relying on the dog’s detection, a search warrant was issued. The search warrant was deemed invalid because the probable cause it was based upon was tainted. The justices felt that a warrantless sniff of someone’s private residence is a step too far and is in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
K9 Officers are an integral and beloved member of law enforcement agencies throughout the US and the world. Their work is dangerous and difficult, yet these dogs remain loyal and affectionate to their handlers. Do you know any good stories of heroic police dogs?
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