Bad guys beware

10/21/2008

By ERIN MATHEWS

Salina Journal

The patrol dog snarled and snapped, but bad-guy-for-a-day Michael Rivera was not deterred. He made sure the dog's muzzle was secured.

A good thing, too, because seconds later, the dog was racing after Rivera, jumping high up on his back and causing him to fall to the ground and roll while the dog attacked him as viciously as he could -- despite the muzzle.

A K-9 officer called the dog off and commanded him to guard Rivera, a Grand View police officer, while the K-9 officer patted him down.

"That was the fun part," Rivera said. He was in Salina on Monday to assist with Heart of America Police Dog Association certification exercises, which are going on in various locations until Thursday. Rivera's father, Nelson Rivera, trains police dogs and was the source of the Salina Police Department's two dogs, Riddick and Kain, and the Saline County Sheriff's Office's dog, Rony.

The attacks during certification exercises looked pretty grueling for Rivera. Although he wore a heavily padded, full-body bite suit for exercises designed to test the dogs' courage and ability to follow commands, at least one of the bites still penetrated into his upper arm, which was bruised and slightly punctured.

Jim Hughes, Saline County Sheriff's Office K-9 officer, said even with the $1,500 protective suit, the "bad guy" needs some know-how to avoid injury.

"You have to know how to move just right to absorb the shock of the dog hitting you," Hughes said.

Real bad guys, beware.

Second-chance dogs

Twenty K-9 officers and their dogs from surrounding police and sheriff's departments are in Salina for the annual certification exercises.

To be certified, the dogs must perform 25 different disciplines designed to simulate circumstances that might be encountered on a regular patrol.

Patrol dogs are trained in drug sniffing, apprehension, tracking, evidence location, building and area searches and handler protection. They have to demonstrate their abilities to perform tasks that utilize all of these skills. Narcotics dogs are being tested on their more narrowly focused training in sniffing out drugs, tracking and evidence location.

Each animal gets a total of three second chances. Beyond that, they would not be certified and could not work as a law enforcement dog, Hughes said. Hughes said the dogs participate in a minimum of 16 hours of training exercises each month. Any correction an animal needs is done with a leash, Hughes said, adding that the dogs are never struck or kicked.

"We try to train for everything we run into on the street," he said. "You can't expect them to do something if they don't know what they're expected to do."

Several of the dogs -- Rony and Riddick among them -- being tested on running recall Monday afternoon will have to use a second chance.

They really want to bite

During the test, the handlers commanded them to chase down Rivera but then called the dogs off. Rony and Riddick couldn't be deterred.

"It's real hard to call a dog off because they just want to bite so bad," said Herington Police Department K-9 Officer Wade Lentz.

In the evidence location trial, a dog sniffs through a field to locate an object with human scent on it. When it finds the object, it lays down next to it. The idea is to find evidence that a fleeing suspect might leave behind. Hughes said a dog can smell an odor on objects handled by a person up to three days later, depending on the weather and type of material.

European immigrants

Most of the dogs are from Europe, where there are long-standing blood lines and training techniques, Hughes said. Officers yelled commands to the dogs in German and Czechoslovakian.

"It's nice so you don't have a bad guy telling your dog to heal," Hughes said.

A dog costs about $10,000 and requires $3,000 to $4,000 in specialized equipment. Hughes said the dogs are an important asset, and each can do the work of several human officers.

The sheriff's office's first dog had to retire early after it was hurt chasing a suspect about four years ago, Hughes said. A new dog wasn't in the budget. A one-day community fund drive -- including everything from $1,000 checks to piggie banks from kids -- raised $10,000 to purchase Rony, he said.

"Rony is a product of community generosity," he said.

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