K-9 units are, according to Bremerton Police Officer Bryan Hall, “a great symbol of the positive aspects of law enforcment.”
But why do law enforcement agencies have K-9 units at all?
There are myriad reasons.
Some departments use narcotics-detecting dogs. Some use explosives-detecting dogs. Some, including the Bremerton Police Department and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, use general patrol dogs, mostly used for tracking and finding suspects and evidence.
“Really, the bread and butter of what we do is tracking,” said KCSO Deputy Aaron Baker, whose partner is a German shepherd named Heiko. “If a suspect runs from the scene, (the dogs) will use their nose to track the dead skin cells that are coming off of us, which are unique to every individual.”
Baker said their dogs are also used to hunt down evidence that may be dropped or thrown away by fleeing suspects, such as weapons or stolen goods.
Dogs are also used to detain suspects who may be hiding in hard-to-spot places or fleeing police custody.
“Having the dog there gives us (the ability) to compel a suspect to surrender,” said Hall, whose partner is a German shepherd named Ando. “A barking dog, even just a dog in a car, is enough to convince them of the follies of their ways.”
Joe Hedstrom, a KCSO deputy partnered with a German shepherd named Titan, said, “It’s not every day we get to deploy our dogs. Peaks and valleys — Sometimes you’ll do it two to three times a day, or go a couple days without.”
Because of a dog’s superior sense of smell, things like tracking down hiding or fleeing suspects, and finding stolen or missing evidence, can be done much more efficiently. When tracking down a suspect, K-9 officers regularly call out that they’re tracking the suspect with a dog, asking the individual to come out and surrender, offering every opportunity to do so with no risk of injury on either side.
“You can have 10-20 officers scouring a city block in a neighborhood looking for a suspect hiding under a house or car, and walk right by them,” Hall said. “A dog gives us the ability to locate a suspect much more quickly, with less risk.”
Baker added that using K-9 units can also save lives — and taxpayer money.
“For the communities that are lucky enough to have dog programs, the dogs save an untold number of suspects’ lives every year,” he said. “One of those guys may look at any officer anywhere in the U.S. and go, ‘I’ll take you on because I don’t want to go back to prison for the rest of my life. I may stab you with this knife, I may shoot you with this gun or I may hit you with this pipe.’
“But they look at the K-9 handler and the dog, and they go, ‘I think I can take you, but I can’t take you and that dog together.’”
Hall called it the “fear factor” for what a trained police dog can do.
So instead of fighting, a potentially aggressive suspect deterred by the dog may instead choose to surrender. And if they don’t? Well, then the dog can be used as a detection tool.
K-9 tracking dogs are trained to use their mouths to detain a combative suspect, enabling his handler to safely approach and detain the suspect.
“When they do that,” Baker said, “one of the last things the guy is thinking about is (hurting) you. They’re thinking, ‘Get the dog off, get the dog off.’ We can go up and safely take them into custody. We may have to take them to the hospital and get them cleaned up. But those guys are still alive because of that dog. We did not have to resort to using deadly force because we had those dogs with us.”
“A hundred times a year in Bremerton and Kitsap County, those dogs find those people,” Baker said. “That dog saves the taxpayers millions of dollars in settlements (because) we didn’t have to use deadly force or we didn’t have to use any force at all.”
To learn more about K-9 units, visit www.wspca.com. Donations can be made to local K-9 units by visiting law enforcement offices in the county. Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office in Silverdale is located at 3951 Randall Way NW, Silverdale. Bremerton Police Department is located at 1025 Burwell St., Bremerton.