They might look cute, but they can bite. Police dogs are used throughout Orange County, training for months and learning to track, smell narcotics and find bombs.
There are multiple ways to buy a police dog, said Officer David Funk from the Chapel Hill Police Department. Both overseas and local breeders sell dogs, but the Chapel Hill Police Department buys their dogs from the Czech Republic.
Funk said the cost of a police dog varies depending on the level of training the dog has received. The three main breeds used are German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois.
These dogs spend around 14 weeks learning commands and obedience training with their officer, Funk said. Throughout this training, a deep bond forms between the dog and officer — the officer-canine relationship is built on trust and the officer must be confident that the dog will listen to their commands.
Sergeant Joseph Glenn of the Carrboro Police Department said police dogs are always ready to work.
“I dress in uniform and put Titus (police dog) into the back of my patrol car and he is alert and ready," he said. "He listens to what is going on and feeds off of my emotions.”
The selection process for K9 handlers is difficult and requires experience, Glenn said. These K9 officers must be able to establish a connection with the dogs and communicate their feelings because they are often out in the field alone.
Glenn said police dogs are vital to solving cases, mostly because of their strong sense of smell, which can be up to 100,000 times better than humans. Officers are able to use probable cause to search a car when they pull someone over with the help of a K9 smelling narcotics or stolen goods.
Police dogs are trained to think of every exercise and real interaction as a game with a reward. Handlers use a command and call system to dictate the dogs' actions.
Recently, the Hillsborough K9 unit caught an offender in a serious crime. Corporal Scott Foster of the Hillsborough K9 Unit said police dog Vader tracked the offender to where he was hiding.
“Once located, K9 Vader displayed controlled aggression which resulted in the offender surrendering peacefully without injury to anyone involved,” he said.
Funk said the school of thought on training and interacting with police dogs has changed drastically in the past ten years. K9’s were previously viewed as vicious, but this view has changed. Police dogs are now seen as more versatile, because they both need to be able to walk through an elementary school as well as catch a criminal.
A large part of the K9 Unit is establishing connections with the community. Most people connect with dogs and police, so they are often used to build positive relations with locals, Funk said.
“We get a whole more done with love, not shove,” he said.
After a long day of work, police dogs go home and relax with their families just like domestic pets. Most K9s live with their handlers and stay with them after retirement.
Without the help of the K9 unit, many cases would go left unsolved. Foster said the dogs are vital to the police force and are beloved members of the community.
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