What do Voodoo, Brutus, Leroy, Roscoe, Barney, Koda, Emmie, Lucy and Gracie have in common with a dozen other K-9’s from law enforcement agencies around the region?
The answer is that they have all spent the past three weeks together at the Fairfax County Police Department helping their handlers learn to train others.
Using their keen sense of smell and detection abilities, K-9’s have become an integral part of today’s law enforcement, and they work a wide variety of criminal and suspect scenarios.
Lucy, a three-year-old female red Labrador retriever, has been a drug sniffing dog for two-thirds of her life. Her partner, Victor Cruz, is a 20-year veteran of the Fairfax County Police Department and also works for the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“So does Lucy,” he said. “She is trained to find drug residue, on money, during road interdictions, you name it. She has discovered several pounds of marijuana and once found $20,000 worth of illegal drugs during a stop.”
Lucy is Cruz’s second K-9 partner. His first was a German shepherd named Otis, who he worked with for 13 years. “Otis is still with me,” Cruz said. “He’s 14 and retired and lives at my house now.”
The Fairfax County Police K-9 Unit currently has 13 teams. They are on duty 24-hours a day, seven days a week, and can be called upon at any time. According to police, the goal of each unit is to make police-work safer and more efficient for the men and women who patrol Fairfax County, through the use of specially-trained canines and handlers.
In Fairfax County, canine teams work regular uniform patrol in their assigned district and respond to a variety of calls such as burglaries, building searches, article searches, suspect tracking, area and building searches for suspects, narcotics and officer-safety assists. K-9’s may also assist on other police calls but they try to stay available for calls where their skills may need to be deployed. K-9 teams also participate in many civic functions and educational demonstrations throughout the year, according to police.
According to police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell, all K-9 teams must pass an annual certification every year after their initial 14-week basic school. Being certified ensures the canine teams are not only skilled at their jobs, but also are well controlled. All of the canine teams receive daily training and organized unit training on a bi-weekly basis. All of the canines are cross-trained as narcotics-detector dogs.
“All of the canines go home with their human partners. Not only are the dogs more socialized being around the officer and his or her family, but they stay healthier not kenneled together where there is an increased chance for illness to spread quickly,” Caldwell said.
On Tuesday, after a three-week session, three Fairfax County officers and their K-9’s “graduated” from a new type of training program taught by legendary dog trainer Randy Hare of Jackson, Miss.
The session was the first-ever regional “train-the-trainer” course, sponsored by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and was attended by several area law enforcement agencies. Attendees graduated with the knowledge, skills and abilities to train K-9 teams within their own agencies in the cutting-edge techniques taught by Hare.
Police officer Joe Furman said his K-9 partner, a 10-month-old male Shepherd/Belgian Malinois-mix patrol dog named Danno, is doing well with the training, which encourages dogs to think more for themselves instead of being potentially distracted by the promise of an edible reward. “It’s a new method but he is picking up on it very quickly,” Furman said of his four-legged partner.
Joe Clerkin, a 17-year veteran of the department, works on the bomb squad with his K-9 partner, Gracie, a nine-year-old black Labrador retriever who is trained to detect explosives and gunpowder residue.
Clerkin says that Gracie is testament that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
“She is the oldest dog on the bomb squad,” he said.
In addition to being the oldest, Gracie also is somewhat of a celebrity.
According to Clerkin, she was instrumental in linking former Marine Yonathan Melaku, 24, of Fairfax County, to the Pentagon, Quantico Marine base and other military facility shootings in 2010.
“Gracie linked some bullet shells to his closet,” Clerkin said.
Melaku was arrested in June 2011, and was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in federal prison last year for the shootings.