By Peg McRoy
The K-9s that work side by side with law enforcement officers are a special breed of dog.
In the line of duty these animals are elite athletes highly trained in detection and protection. When mixing with the community they are friendly public relations ambassadors. When off duty, these K-9s live in the homes of their handlers (officers) and are treasured and much-loved family pets.
These dogs are imported from overseas and specifically bred for K-9 units. When acquired by law enforcement, these dogs have already been given basic training. Once in the United States and placed with their handler, specialty training begins for what each dog is targeted to do for the departments they serve.
K-9s are trained in specialties such as narcotics, firearms and tracking. The core focus of the local training is tailored to building the bond between the handler and the K-9, so they become a well-oiled machine.
“As chief of the Southport Police Department, I am proud to emphasize the immeasurable value our K-9 unit brings to our law enforcement efforts,” said Chief Tom Vaughn. “Our K-9 partners, with their remarkable skill and dedication, play an integral role in maintaining public safety and upholding the highest service standards.”
Officer Ryan Archer with the Indianapolis Police Department (IMPD) knew at a very young age that he wanted to be a police officer and K-9 handler. His father was a police officer for 35 years and a handler for 28 of those years. They are the first father-and-son K-9 handlers for IMPD.
“I chose to be a K-9 handler as I have been around throughout my entire life,” said Archer. “I was fortunate to see the hard work, dedication, training, teamwork and camaraderie that the K-9 unit possesses. When my father retired, I had the honor of taking the unit number he held for 28 years.”
What these dogs do is invaluable to the community and often lifesaving for police officers.
“The K-9 tracking helps keep officers out of harms way,” said Sgt. Brandon Cox with the Greenwood Police Department. “It is a safety thing for us. The dog can tell where a person is long before an officer can find them.”
Bargersville added their first K-9, Dax, last year. His handler is Officer Jefferson Lamping.
“Dax is fitting in well here at the Bargersville Police Department (BPD). He loves coming to work. He is doing great and is a wonderful asset to us in helping with many arrests for possession of narcotics. Dax has also been called for service not only for the BPD but other surrounding agencies when a K-9 is needed to track and find suspects. I am glad to have him as my partner and a member of this department.”
The K-9s travel in patrol cars with their officers and their mere presence inevitably attracts attention. The presence of a K-9 can, and often does, alter the outcome of an interaction between an officer and a suspect. A person who is considering fleeing a police officer may completely put that option aside just by the mere presence of a K-9.
“Their exceptional tracking, detection and crowd-control abilities have proven time and again to be pivotal in critical situations,” said Vaughn.
Another avenue of value these K-9s bring to the police departments they serve is creating a positive connection between the officers and the public.
“They are great for utility service, but they are also ambassadors to the public,” said Deputy Chief Robert J. Mercuri of the Beech Grove Police Department. “Members of the public often want to come up and meet the dog. Then at the same time they get to meet the officer. People are people and this interaction lets them realize first-hand that police officers are just people too.”
That sentiment seemingly holds true throughout police departments.
“Beyond their operational excellence, these loyal companions foster a stronger bond between our officers and the community we protect,” said Vaughn. “The Southport Police Department is truly fortunate to have such an elite K-9 unit that exemplifies our unwavering commitment to our citizens’ safety and well-being.”
Adults and children alike will approach an officer just to talk about the K-9 and what the dog can do in the line of service.
“We have K-9 demonstrations for the public,” said Mercuri. “These dogs can be aggressive if they are protecting somebody or a piece of property. That is what they are trained to do. When they are not working, they are just dogs that want to be loved and give love. Another great thing about dogs is that they are always in a good mood. People have good days and bad days. But not dogs. Generally, they just have good days and good moods.”
The K-9s work 12-hour shifts alongside their handler. When their shifts are over these dogs return home for down time and to be loving pets.
“In (Dax’s) off time, he is a very playful and hyper dog and loves to play fetch,” said Lamping.
“These dogs live with us and are part of our family. At the end of the day they are just dogs that have been trained and want to please their handlers,” added Cox. “My dog at home is the biggest baby. He cuddles with my wife and kid. But the minute you put him in that squad car he will not let anyone around me. Not even my wife! They have a great on and off switch. But they know when they are at home they can relax.”
Mercuri also noted that having a K-9 unit in a department gives officers another line of specialty. They can aspire to be a handler besides being a patrolman or detective.
“It adds a lot of humanizations to the officer,” said Mercuri.
The Central Indiana K9 Association helps train K9 units across central Indiana. Here are ways anyone can help support K9 units and their handlers.
Supporting the Central Indiana K9 Association with Sponsorships
The association supports and supplements K9 units across central Indiana and strives to assist, unite and promote all working K9 teams across central Indiana.
Sponsorship dollars go to support:
- The Shadow Fund — a medical grant program for retired dogs. Many times, when these dogs retire, they are signed over to their handler. The handler then becomes responsible for the dog’s medical costs. Often these dogs are retired due to medical issues so this can put a financial burden on the handler. The Shadow Fund is a grant program that a handler can apply to for financial assistance.
- The Training Program — supports the four quarterly training seminars that the association facilitates for central Indiana.
- A Monument for K9s—supports the long-term goal in creating a monument for dogs that have passed in the line of duty.
Sponsorships levels are:
The German Shepherd Pack – $2,500 and up.
The Belgian Malinois Pack – $1,000 to 2,499
The Dutch Shepherd Pack – $500-$999
The Labrador Retriever Pack – $250-$249
The Bloodhound Pac – Up to $249
Address: P.O. Box 203, Plainfield, IN 46168