Taking a Bite out of Crime
Life as a K-9
Dogs have always been our best friends and protectors. But some spend their lives going above and beyond to make our lives and communities safe.
Among the dedicated officers of the Colorado Springs Police Department are the unsung heroes of the K-9 Unit, an elite squad of canine police officers who serve, protect and defend their partners and community. They love a scratch between the ears, but they’re happiest fighting crime—searching for criminals, often armed and dangerous, and sniffing out narcotics and explosives for starters.
According to Sgt. Brian Cummings, supervisor of the K-9 unit and also a handler with his dog, Diesel, the City of Colorado Springs supports 15 dogs in three units. The K-9 unit consists of 10 handler/canine teams made up of Belgian Malinois (Belgian Shepherds), Malinois/German Shepherd mixes, and Dutch Shepherds. They are all dual purpose dogs, trained in patrol work (looking for suspects) and narcotics searches.
The EOD unit (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) has 2 single-purpose dogs—a Lab/Pit mix, and a Malinois—who are trained and certified in the detection of explosive materials in and around buildings and public areas.
And the Colorado Springs airport unit consists of 3 explosive odor-detection dogs who are supervised and handled by CSPD officers, but are owned and trained by TSA (Transportation Security Administration), the federal agency that makes air travel such a pleasure.
Getting and training the K-9s
Shepherds (German, Belgian, Dutch) are the primary breeds used in police work because of their high intelligence, strength and loyalty. Males generally remain unaltered in order to preserve their dominant, aggressive instincts needed in the line of duty.
CSPD’s canines are currently purchased from Shallow Creek Kennels in Pennsylvania—which specializes in police service dogs imported from Europe—after a rigorous selection testing process conducted on site by CSPD officers.
The cost? On the low end, Cummings says, the initial purchase of a dog is approximately $8,500. But that’s only the beginning. Each dog and handler team undergoes six months of basic and field training with trainer Officer Andrew Genta before they are tested and certified for duty and earn their shields. “When all is said and done,” Cummings says, “the cost of obtaining and training a canine team is about $20,000.”
Each dog is paired with a handler with whom they will live, train and work the rest of their lives. Bonding is crucial, and before training starts, each team is given a week or two to forge a connection that will remain unbroken.
On the job
A police dog’s working life is about 6-8 years, and fraught with danger as they put their lives on the line to protect their human partners and do their jobs. “Our policy states that the handler makes the ultimate decision on how and when to deploy their canine,” Cummings explains.
They all have bullet- and stab-proof vests, donated by people in the community who purchase them from the non-profit Vested Interest in K-9s, but are used only when absolutely necessary because of their weight and heat during long searches.
And, it’s a felony crime to assault or kill a police dog.
The dogs are trained to bite and hold suspects, called a “contact,” until officers can handcuff them. A contact isn’t a nip. A police dog’s bite is a lethal weapon, and suspects who have been taken down by a K-9 usually require medical attention.
When a canine is deployed, Cummings says, additional officers are used as cover. “We are focused on watching the dog and the change of behaviors. The cover officers watch out for the bad guy.”
Recently, a robbery in Kohl’s department store required the use of a K-9 team to catch a knife-wielding suspect who was wanted on several outstanding warrants. He had fled the scene and hidden in the women’s restroom in nearby Panera Bread, where he refused to surrender. Officer Genta released his canine partner, Vader, who swiftly apprehended the criminal.
It was a long day for the pair. Earlier they had worked on two separate narcotics searches.
At the end of the day, the dogs go home with their partners, where they are part of the family. But, Cummings says of his dog, “When my work phone goes off, Diesel is ready to go to work. He starts to pace and gets antsy.”
A dog’s retirement because of age or health issues, is a sad and difficult time for handlers and their dogs. But they always choose to keep their dogs, Cummings says. “It’s a no brainer. The dog has spent more time with his handler, than the handler has spent with his own family.”
As officer Andrew Genta recently said of his new dog, Remme, “He is not just a dog. He’s my partner and a part of my family. He puts his health and life in danger every day to protect the citizens of Colorado Springs, and the officers who serve the community.”
They are true heroes.
When considering your philanthropic contributions for 2016, Colorado Springs Style would like to encourage you to consider a gift to the Colorado Springs Police Department K-9 Unit. Your contribution would help with the purchase of dogs, the cost of shields, vests, training and care.
Please clearly mark your donations for “K-9 Gift Trust” and send to:
Colorado Springs Police Department
705 S. Nevada Ave.
Colorado Springs, CO 80903