Page 1

Best Practices Amaury Murgado

Getting the Most out of K-9 Units Give handlers and their dogs what they need so they can do their job.


ools are only as good as the people that use them. For example, a Samurai sword might cut in any hand, but in order to maximize its lethality, it takes a skilled warrior with years of training. Like the Samurai sword, a K-9 team is an effective tool if its use is understood by those that call on them to support their operations. If you are amateurish in your approach to finding the suspect, he will slip through your fingers. K-9 teams do not operate in a vacuum; they need help from other responding units in order to maximize their effectiveness.

Understanding the Value of a K-9 Team K-9 teams are considered force multipli-

as just another smash and grab, and contaminate the hell out of the scene. You don’t need to squander K-9’s usefulness by using improper tactics or procedures. Unless exigent circumstances exist, time is on your side. Use time as a weapon instead of an excuse. It’s also important to understand that there is a special bond between handler and dog that makes them act as one. They depend on each to get the job done, but they depend on us for everything else. So how can you make things better? Much of what patrol officers can do to help K-9 units is what you are supposed to be doing anyway. Things like setting up a good perimeter, protecting a crime scene, and staying off the radio during a track. Now if only these standard procedures were followed more frequently.

ers. One K-9 team can do the work of many officers, which frees up officers for other duties. The last time I checked, there were approximately 14 states that required a K-9 team certification. In Florida, we require a Perimeters 400-hour basic training course to certify a It’s easy to get desensitized to things in Respect the usefulness of a K-9 K-9 team before it can be deployed. Other law enforcement. You handle so many team. Follow proper tactics to states accept a national recognized stancalls of a similar nature that you can forallow for accurate tracking. dard from one of the K-9 associations get each one you respond to is new. They and add their own set of additional requirements. all blur together with you saying things like, “Is that damn Regardless of what standard is used, establishing a K-9 alarm going off again?” The problem with such a mindset is unit is a huge commitment and investment for an agency to that you are never issued that crystal ball that sees all. Bemake. Field operatives need to remember that: Think about cause cops go to so many false alarms or calls that just don’t how you use the K-9 unit and treat them with respect. I have pan out, doing something as critical as setting up a proper been involved with a few spectacular catches as a cover of- perimeter sometimes seems unimportant. Nothing could ficer and I have to admit it is a huge adrenaline rush. Any be farther from the truth. veteran officer will tell you that a well trained K-9 team is The idea behind setting up a perimeter is that size does worth its weight in gold. matter. Bigger is better…you can always make it smaller Take a building search, for example. Using a K-9 team is later. A good perimeter keeps the suspect penned in an area the most effective and efficient way to search a building for so a K-9 can track to them. The goal is that every time the a suspect. And yet, how many times do road patrol units just suspect goes on the move, he sees a patrol car and goes back rush in before checking if a K-9 unit is available? I call this inside the perimeter and hunkers down. In order for that type of attitude ribbon chasing. Everyone wants to catch to happen, each person on perimeter needs to be in his or the bad guy and get the gold star. We allow our zeal for the her car, lights on, and paying attention. It’s also preferable find to cloud our judgment. Or worse, we blow off the call whenever possible to shut the cars off, as the exhaust fumes 16


For more Best Practices go to

Best Practices kill the scent involved with the track. But what inevitably happens is instead of officers scanning their assigned areas for the suspect to pop out, they busy themselves with texting, reading, talking on the cell phone, or playing on their incar computers. I’ve often wondered how many times a suspect has snuck by someone who was not paying attention. On the flip side, however, there are many times when an officer spots the suspect in his or her area of responsibility and calls it out on the radio. The last one I can recall as watch commander before moving to Special Operations was during a robbery. The bad guys held back and tried to slip out onto a main drag, driving normally while hiding in the open. A perimeter unit recognized the car, let it pass as if nothing was going on, and then orchestrated a felony stop before the suspects could realize what was happening.

suspect. It never fails; when an alert tone goes out, some insidious chromosome kicks in and everyone involved gets diarrhea of the mouth. Acknowledge and go. Set up your perimeter and when the K-9 unit gets there and starts its track, the radio is theirs. If you are lucky to have Aviation respond, then radio traffic belongs to the K-9 unit and the air asset. Do all of your admin-type talking on another channel. Keep the radio clear for updates on possible suspect location. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have had to admonish someone for some totality non-essential radio communication on the primary channel while K-9 was on

Crime Scene Protection Crime scene protection is also critical.

You need to respond, assess the situation, and react accordingly. Once things calm down and you know what’s going on, you need to lock down the scene. That means keeping everyone out until the K-9 unit is done. That’s right, you heard me. No, you can’t interview and get your witness statements inside; no, you can’t start processing the scene; and no, you can’t touch anything that could be considered a scent article. Look at it this way: You can’t be a little pregnant. You either take calling out K-9 seriously or you don’t. If you do call them out, then you can wait on some of these other tasks until the K-9 unit is done. The goal is to catch the bad guy, not for you to finish your paperwork expeditiously. We really need to change our mindset regarding K-9 units. If you call them out you need to treat every scene as a major incident. If you wouldn’t contaminate a homicide scene that is basically over, why would you contaminate a crime scene that is still in progress?

The Radio There is no bigger pet peeve of mine, out-

side of officer safety issues, than misuse of the radio. It’s a supervisor’s eternal fight. If K-9 is on a track, then everyone but K-9 should be quiet, unless someone spots the 18


hands-on with the suspect, don’t run with K-9; and my favorite, if you are afraid of dogs, don’t run with K-9. My preference is to have another K-9 officer run as cover officer. But, that’s a luxury and one that doesn’t always happen. You just can’t tell some poor sap, “Hey, you! Run with K-9!” The officer has to know some ground rules. It takes some training and hopefully your agency periodically addresses it during roll call training or other training opportunities. For example, stay close but behind the K-9 handler. Don’t backlight the handler at night with your flashlight. If the dog turns around and starts heading in your direction, stand perfectly still until he moves away from you again. And, if the K-9 is let off lead and he is running in your direction, freeze. When K-9s are in that mode, they really don’t know you are the good guy. It’s movement they are looking for. Ask any officer who has been bitten before and you will find that for the most part the officer was in the wrong spot, doing the wrong thing, at the wrong time.

Work Together K-9 teams are an excellent resource if

Tips for Working with K-9 Units 1 A K-9 unit is a tool that is only effective when used properly. 2 Set up the best perimeter you can. 3P  rotect the crime scene as if it were a major incident. 4 Stay off the radio during a track. 5B  e a good cover officer or be somewhere else.

a track. Some of the biggest violators are command staff. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get away with telling one such radio traffic abuser, “No, sir. I don’t have an update for you because if I did, I would have told you already. If you’d listen to the radio, then you’d know what I know.”

A Note on Being a Cover Officer A K-9 handler and dog should never run alone. Either have a K-9 officer go with them on a track, or a patrol officer has to be assigned from those on duty. Being a cover officer during a K-9 track is serious business. If you get volunteered but are not in shape, don’t run with K-9. If you don’t want to get wet crossing a canal, don’t run with K-9; if you don’t want to go

used properly. But we have to make sure the rest of us are following the basics of Cop 101 when we call them out. The best K-9 team in the world will still have trouble finding a suspect if we screw up the perimeter and crime scene. I suggest that you get with your handlers and find out what it is they need from you. I also suggest attending their training from time to time. Watch firsthand what they do and how they do it. Riding with them as part of a job-shadowing program will be beneficial as well. And finally, don’t complain about your K-9 unit never finding anyone. It’s not as easy as you think. If you take the time to review your K-9 unit’s actual stats, you may think differently. Besides, it’s not like the movies, even though some of us do look like we need to put less butter on our popcorn. Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has 24 years of law enforcement experience, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.


It describes how to properly utilize your K-9 Unit in law enforcement operaitons.