When I said the simulator and scenario rooms were fun, I had forgotten about the module on the K-9 Unit. It’s remarkable how even the most serious adults in the room light up and melt at the sight of a dog. As a dog-lover myself, I really enjoyed learning about the BPD’s canine unit and getting to “meet” one of their dogs.
The first in the country and inspired by the program at Scotland Yard, the Baltimore PD’s K-9 Unit \ began back in 1956.
The unit typically consists of seven different breeds including Labs, German Shepherds, German Pointers and Malamutes. They have about 25 dogs (thought it used to be 50) including 5 drug dogs which are trained to sniff out specific drugs (rather than all of them), 5 bomb and gun dogs, and 5 other scent dogs. I know this does not equal 25 but, this is just a rough estimate, as it fluctuates.
Each dog costs about $6800 and most come from higher quality breeding programs in Europe. Police departments usually only take one or two dogs from a litter after extensive temperament testing. They need to demonstrate calm in the face of gun fire, loud noises, and explosives, and have a strong toy or hunt drive.
The BPD receives grant money for the K-9 unit. Notably, Ben Rothlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers has donated money for 3 dogs as well as $10,000 and equipment. He often donates money to police departments for police dogs and asks for no recognition.
Most dogs stay with their assigned officer 24/7. They usually become part of the officer’s family and most officers choose to keep the dog as their pet once they or the dog retire. Officers often bond with their K-9, learning to know and understand their dog’s specific signals and personality. When a K-9 unit officer goes on vacation, it is their responsibility to work out care for dog while they are away. The department pays for the cost of care until retirement, at which point the officer incurs the cost of care.
Seemingly well taken care of, they are provided work vests, but only wear them for 25 minutes at a time before they get too hot. K-9 unit patrol cars are equipped with a special safety system for their canine colleagues called a “Hot & Pop” system. See one here.
Most dogs’ work lives last for 8-10 years. For protection work, they get 16 weeks of training. K-9 dogs are often taught commands in different languages so no one in public knows what commands an officer is giving. Other types work take about 6-8 weeks of training.
Bomb dogs work along bomb technicians to prepare for big events and games. Gun dogs are trained to smell gunpowder and bullets. Drug dogs can be requested by patrol officers if drug possession is suspected but can’t be found. Drugs dogs do not work on call, but bomb dogs do. They are not trained to sniff out every drug, but rather one type.
If a dog picks up on one of the scents they are trained for, they will stand still and not move, as a way to alert their officer. They can also smell fear and will use it to enter a location and go after a suspect. They will NOT be sent into a situation against someone with a gun. In good conditions, dogs can pick up a scent up to 50 feet away. Drugs are reportedly found daily with the help of K-9s and guns “all the time.” As for bombs, the BPD’s K-9 unit has not encountered any bombs in years.
Dogs are trained to attack, and our class got to see and even try on some of the heavy duty training gear the K-9 unit uses. Attacks are rare though, with one bite having occurred in the past year, while responding to an armed bank robbery.