Bite and Sniff School
In the law enforcement world, K-9s can be tools of almost immeasurable value.
In a time when most officers work without partners and back-up help is generally not immediate, a highly-trained, fiercely loyal set of sharp teeth goes a long way in controlling dangerous situations.
And the ability to smell drugs hidden from sight comes in pretty handy as well.
Thirty K-9 teams spent this week in Columbus at a national North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA) certification workshop.
Leading the training and certification was Kevin Klostemeier, a special agent with the Montana Department of Criminal Investigations Bureau, and Robert Hickman, the chief of police in Port Clinton, Ohio. Both men are also master trainers for NAPWDA.
Stillwater County Sheriff’s Deputy Randy Smith, who is a K-9 handler, was a key component in organizing the event and having it held in Columbus for the first time ever.
Teams came from as far away as Kodiak, Alaska, Washington, North Dakota and Montana and ran through a variety of training certification drills designed for their specific use. Those include detection dogs (used for narcotics), apprehension dogs (used to apprehend subjects), dual dogs (those who are used for both detection and apprehension) and finally cadaver dogs.
And the teams had their work cut out for them.
In the detection certification tests, teams searched vehicles, rooms and lockers.
For the vehicles, six were searched, with four containing either methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin or marijuana. Two vehicles were what is called “blank,” meaning no narcotics were placed.
The room searches were set up identically. For the locker searches, one narcotic was placed among 25 lockers.
A K-9 and handler could miss just one scent and still pass.
Apprehension certification is as equally demanding and operates on a pass-fail basis, said Klostemeier. The first test is obedience, in which the handler must demonstrate things such as off-leash leading and hand and voice commands. Next is aggression in which a K-9 must show it can fully engage a subject with a bite or be stopped before reaching the target by a voice command.
“You’ve got to be able to stop your dog before contact if the situation changes suddenly,” said Klostemeier.
Next comes building and area searches, in which a subject can conceal themselves.
Watching the process from the sidelines was a show.
Fur was flying on the Columbus High School football field Monday morning. Large balls of highly trained, teeth-baring, growling.
Kira took off at full speed toward a man in a bite suit and stopped on a dime on a single command by handler J. Rozmus, a detective with the Kodiak, Alaska Police Department.
“I’m impressed,” said Hickman looking back to a group of officers waiting for their turns.
One more voice command and in the blink of an eye, Kira was firmly attached to the subject’s arm and did not let go until given the command.
At the Search and Rescue building, one by one, K-9 detection teams searched three vehicles -- a van, a camper and a Suburban. MHP Sgt. Jim Sanderson and his K-9 emerged from the camper, dripping in sweat from the already hot morning sun.
Another K-9 team had a slightly tougher time, but Smith noted the dog found everything it was supposed to.
“That’s the best I’ve seen your dog,” Smith told the handler.
Shakie was in the room for less than a minute when the Montana Highway Patrol K-9 found the first hidden drug scent.
The next rooms were repeats of the scene. A middle drawer and a pencil sharpener.
“Very well done,” said Hickman to MHP Trooper Erik Fetterhoff. “You are putting your other patrol teams to shame.”
Hickman noted how Fetterhoff let the dog do the work and stayed out of its way.
That was in contrast to the previous MHP K-9 team that worked a blank room for an extended period of time before the dog squatted and left a present on the floor.
NAPWDA is a nationally accredited organization launched in 1977 comprised of K-9 handlers around the world, according to the group’s website. The organization is dedicated to assisting police dog work through service training workshops and one national workshop a year at which legal updates, new techniques and certifications.
Klostemeier, who for a short time in the 1990s was a Columbus police officer, is the only master trainer with NAPWDA in Montana and travels out of state to conduct certification. Smith is working to become a NAPWDA trainer.
Stillwater K-9 calling it a career at year’s end
Stillwater County Sheriff’s K-9 Jordy is set to retire from service in the next few months.
Handler Deputy Randy Smith will start training a new dog, and keep Jordy as a family pet.
Jordy’s biggest bust came last year when called to I-90 on an assist to the Montana Highway Patrol. Jordy alerted on the car and when a search warrant was executed, 115 pounds of marijuana was found. The street value was estimated at $736,000.
Other notable performances on the Belgian Malinois’ resume include finding two burglary suspects hiding in the Molt area and brought the county more than $50,000 in cash through drug forfeitures. Forfeiture money can be used for specific things, such as drug enforcement related equipment, such as in-car cameras.
When Jordy hangs up his badge, he will become the Smiths family already beloved pet and Smith will start anew with another K-9. Stillwater Undersheriff Chip Kem said some forfeiture money will be used to buy a replacement K-9.