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West Valley City Journal

K-9 Unit Exhibits Skills at WestFest Celebration

Aug 04, 2016 04:27PM ● By Travis Barton

The K-9 unit in the West Valley City Police Department put on a demonstration during WestFest on June 18. —West Valley City Police Department

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

West Valley City, Utah - Dog is a man’s best friend, unless you’re a criminal.

The West Valley City Police Department’s K-9 unit put on a demonstration at WestFest — West Valley City’s annual city celebration — on Saturday, June 18, showing what those dogs could do to thwart crime.

“We could show what the public wants to see, like the dog biting a guy in a bite suit and stuff like that,” Sergeant Shane Matheson, K-9 unit supervisor, said.

Dogs were taken through different patrol scenarios showing their obedience and giving the public what they wanted by taking down an officer who was wearing a bite suit.

“It was pretty accurate; obviously we can’t do everything that the dog is capable of doing in a public demonstration,” Matheson said.

Matheson said the dogs spend most of their time doing building and drug searches, which is a bit more difficult to do during a demonstration at a carnival.

But it was an opportunity, Matheson said, for the community to learn about what the K-9 unit does.

“It’s nice for the community to see what services they have available. It’s not something people get to see outside of a public demonstration,” Matheson said. “They get to see that we’re out there and we’re a resource in the community.”

Jeremy Gardener was in attendance with his daughter and said he wouldn’t enjoy being the one the dog bites.

“I know I never want to be chased down by one of them [dogs],” Gardener said. “It’s great that the police have that kind of tool in their arsenal.”

All seven dogs in the K-9 unit are certified through the Utah Police Officer Standards and Training Academy. The dogs’ basic training lasts anywhere from three to six months before they become certified. The K-9 unit has seven dual-purpose dogs — five Belgian Malinois and two bloodhounds — and one single-purpose drug dog.

Matheson is responsible to ensure their dogs are certified and available at all times for callouts and regular shifts.

Officers in the K-9 unit require extra training. Once handlers are chosen, they go through the police academy again with 12 weeks of training in patrol and an additional 12 weeks for narcotics detection. The training doesn’t end there.

“All of our handlers and dogs train pretty much every day when they’re on duty to learn new skills or hone the skills they already have. We stay pretty busy in training,” Matheson said.

Before the canine training can begin, Matheson said they have to find the dog with the right temperament.

“We find a dog that has the right drive, that wants to play a game of hide-and-seek. That’s really what it is; it’s just a game to the dogs,” Matheson said.

It’s a game they play with real narcotics. Handlers train their dogs to memorize what odors to search for and then give the proper indication of where the odor is by sitting and keeping their nose on the odor.

“Then all of a sudden their toy magically appears and they get rewarded,” Matheson said. “To them they think they’re just finding their toy and they’re going to get to play once they find it.”

Matheson said these dogs are instrumental since they can do things officers can’t.

“When it comes to narcotics detection, there’s no other tool that can detect odors as good as a dog,” Matheson said.

The dogs can help minimize search times for suspects and “make things safer for the officers” when clearing areas of suspects.

“It’s valuable because a dog uses his keen senses to search versus several human officers,” Matheson said.

Matheson said his favorite part of the job is seeing people be caught who otherwise would have escaped if not for the dogs.

“That’s the most fun is seeing the dogs catch the bad guys who would’ve gotten away with their crime. … That to me is the most exciting,” Matheson said.

Dogs and handlers are partners in their jobs, with the dogs also going home with the officers. Matheson’s partner is Copper, a bloodhound.

“They come home with us every night and hang out with our families,” Matheson said. “You form a pretty tight bond with your dog so you understand how each other work[s].”     λ