New BCSO K-9s track suspects, sniff out drugs
By Matt Mencarini | Daily Times Correspondent
The Blount County Sheriff’s Office put three new deputies on the street last Friday.
Kempe, Brondo and Frodo, the department’s newest K-9s, recently finished four weeks of local training to go with previous training in Miami and Holland.
The dogs being put into active duty marks the end of a transition that saw the department lose three dogs, two to retirement and one that died of natural causes, and train their replacements.
The dogs arrived roughly six weeks before their training began, which gave them valuable time to bond with the handlers they’ll not only work with, but also live with.
“The handlers are totally responsible for their care,” sheriff’s deputy Allen Russell said. “If they need to go to the vet, the handler is responsible for taking them. They feed them. They groom them. Their total care is up to the handler. We’re with these dogs more than, a lot of the time, than we’re with our family.”
The dogs were born in Holland and trained there. And as a result, the handlers learn about 25 commands in Dutch.
The purpose of this is two-fold. First, it cuts down on some local training because dogs re-learning commands takes time. Second, like people, Russell says the dogs will sometimes revert back to their “native” language when in a chaotic situation. Having the handlers know basic Dutch commands minimizes the chances of miscommunication.
The dogs are dual-purpose, meaning they can detect narcotics and also track and apprehend suspects. The dogs already had their detection and apprehension skills when they came to Blount County, but started their tracking training when they started their four-week training course. Already, the three dogs can track a suspect a mile away in only two hours.
Each new dog cost $16,500, for a total of $49,500. But the money to purchase them doesn’t come from tax dollars.
The dogs are paid for with money from the drug fund and will also play a big role in many of the drug busts that feed the fund.
“The vehicles and the money and the drugs they seize goes back into that fund to cover the cost of the dogs,” Russell said. “They kind of pay their own way. People think, ‘Oh, $16,000 for a dog.’ But it’s the bad guys that are actually paying for them.”
The benefits not only come from getting drugs off the streets and tracking suspects, but in saved lives and in keeping their handler and other law enforcement officers safe.
“Every handler has a story about a dog getting them out of a (potential) fight,” Russell said.
He added that just the sound of a dog barking from the back seat of a squad car or the handler alerting a suspect in a building that a dog is going to be released usually defuses a situation quickly.
For the dogs to be effective, they need to be obedient.
“Obedience is the most important (characteristic), but the most unnatural thing,” Russell said, adding that it’s the key to everything they do and the first characteristic that’s trained for.
Obedience is unnatural for dogs, according to Russell, because packs of wild dogs and wolves never heel to each other. Fights and bites to the throat decide disputes in a pack.
“K-9 is the only use-of-force option we have that we can call back,” Russell said, explaining the need for obedience. “Once you pull that trigger — bullet, beanbag, Taser — you can’t stop it.”
The deputies don’t use the term “bite” to describe how their dogs apprehend a suspect. They prefer “grip” and say it’s more appropriate because the dogs bite and hold the bite, not biting several locations to maul the suspect. This trait comes from obedience and training. Russell said they want the K-9s to use the least amount of force as necessary, as with all law enforcement officers, and do the least amount of damage as possible.