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Dogs bring special skills to police work

Staff writer

Working as a deputy sheriff, there is always a risk when responding to a call that the nearest backup may be 30 miles away, Travis Wilson said Monday.

That is part of the reason Wilson is happy to spend the extra time to work with Dax, a dog serving with Marion County Sheriff’s Department.

“There is a lot of extra work that goes into it,” he said. “But I’d never trade it. I trust my life to him if it comes down to that point.”

Dax is a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois with training for drug detection, patrol, and search.

Wilson and Dax have training of some kind every week.

“When we’re doing work, it’s to help the dog and us,” Wilson said.

In training, Dax learns to find illegal drugs and signal that he has found them, and Wilson learns how to interpret Dax’s body language.

But that training is in addition to the training every officer receives.

“It doesn’t replace an officer’s observation or investigative skills,” Sheriff Robert Craft said. “It supplements that.”

Dax’s work with the department has resulted in several drug busts. The last discovery resulted in the seizure of $7,000 cash, in addition to the drugs that were found.

An officer must have reasonable suspicion to have a dog sniff for drugs, Craft said, but that is less burdensome than the requirement of probable cause to conduct a physical search.

Hillsboro police dog has nearly decade of experience

Rico, a 12-year-old Belgian Malinois, has been sharing his canine skills with Hillsboro Police Department for nine years.

Rico is trained in drug detection, tracking, evidence recovery, and handler protection.

“Drug detection is our main thing” with Rico, Hillsboro Police Chief Dan Kinning said.

Rico’s evidence recovery skills are used to find items discarded by a suspect while fleeing, but they have other uses. Officer Brad Richards’ most memorable use of Rico’s evidence recovery training was helping a Tabor College student find their lost keys at Memorial Park after dark.

Richards has been Rico’s exclusive handler since 2005.

“Whenever I am out, he’s always with me,” Richards said.

Working with a dog is quite different from regular police work, he said. It requires a lot of extra time to provide proper care and training, he said. He also is called to assist other officers, including those from other agencies, when Rico’s skills are needed.

Richards estimated that he spends 30 hours or more each month in training with Rico. Annual training and certification is required. Most training is local, but Richards doesn’t want Rico to always be in a situation he is familiar with.

“We try to get the dog in different environments,” he said.

During a training session in Salina, the training instructor was called to an airport where an airplane was suspected of transporting drugs. Searching the airplane was a great training opportunity for Rico, Richards said.

“We try to bond with the dog as much as we can,” Richards said of dog-handling police officers.

However, handlers have to be careful to avoid letting their canine co-workers become pets. The dogs must keep a strong association between obedience and reward, he said.

Even when Richards wants to pet Rico, he has to give the dog a task to complete to reward him with petting. Rico lives in a kennel in Richards’ back yard, and he isn’t allowed in the house.

But Richards hopes that can change, and fairly soon. Rico is getting old, and the department is trying to raise money to buy a new police dog. When a new dog is purchased and trained, Rico will be able to retire, and Richards will have the first option to keep him.

Hillsboro’s police dog program isn’t part of the city’s regular budget.

“The program is run almost entirely on donations,” Kinning said.

Some other funding comes from money seized when illegal drugs are found, he said.

The department wants to purchase a Belgian Malinois puppy whose parents both have successful law enforcement careers, to maximize the chance the puppy will be successful. The cost for such a puppy is between $4,000 and $5,000.

Anyone who wishes to donate toward the purchase of a new police dog can call the Hillsboro Police Department, (620) 947-3440.

Last modified Dec. 2, 2010

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