The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has one of the oldest, continuously operating K-9 units in the United States.
This year, we celebrate the forty-eight year of the unit that began with the City of Las Vegas Police Department in 1961, being organized by Sergeant Harold Miller. K-9 units historically are subject to the pressures of budget and politics which makes LVMPD’s dog program’s forty-nineth year tenure an impressive testament to the Department’s commitment to Police Service Dogs as well as the value of the canine in police work.
Currently, the LVMPD K-9 Detail has 14 officers, including 3 sergeants, and 17 Patrol Dogs, trained to locate human scent. These dogs search for suspects, lost victims, and evidence that suspects may have discarded. Seven are European bred German Shepherds, one Dutch Shepard, and 13 are Belgian Malinois’ (Mal-in-waa).
We have 15 detection dogs, nine of the dogs are Narcotic Detector dogs which are trained to locate marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. We use hunting breeds such as Springer Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers because of their high hunt and play drives. We have six Explosive Detector Dogs used to locate many various types of explosives. In addition to the dogs assigned to K-9, LVMPD has six other Narcotic Detector Dogs. Five of these dogs are assigned to the Narcotics Detail, Interdiction Team. They have one Springer Spaniel, and Black and Yellow Labradors. The sixth is assigned to the Resident Section, Laughlin and is a Black Labrador.
Due to a dramatic increase in calls for explosive detector dogs following 9-11, some may have noticed a marked increase in the number of dogs assigned to the unit. Since 2000, the LVMPD K-9 Detail has restructured as it builds for the future. The Detail was split into two squads with every handler carrying two dogs. The first is a patrol dog and the second a detection dog. This expansion is referred to as K-9-2000 (or as we affectionately call it: Y2K9) since its completition, it has provided greater availability of patrol dogs, explosive dogs as well as expand the availability of narcotic detector dogs.
But why do we need dogs in police work? Quite simply, because they can do what no human or machine can do. By virtue of their extremely keen senses, especially smell, they are able to locate people, narcotics and explosives that would otherwise go undetected. Everything in the world “stinks,” that is, everything has its own, distinct odor. All that needs to be done is to teach the dog to locate the odors we want and presto, an invaluable tool is born. Scent theory is much too complex to adequately cover here but suffice it to say, the term “odorless” applies only to what people can or cannot smell. A suspect may hide from view but he cannot stop his odor. An increase in available K-9 Teams means a greater area that can be covered and secured, thereby freeing up Patrol Units to go back out on the street and ultimately providing more police protection for the citizens.
The K-9 Detail is assigned to the Support Services Bureau and is just that, a support service. Dogs and Handlers are trained extensively so that they can be of service to other Bureaus, Sections and Details when the dogs’ special abilities are needed. Due to high demand for K9 assistance, dog teams now work 24/7 which has been proving very succesful.
The most common use of K-9 Patrol Dog Teams involves searching for suspects who have fled on foot and “escaped.” People can become quite creative when trying to hide. We’ve learned not to take anything for granted because of the places we find suspects. Suspects have been found under a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood that looked like it was lying flat on the ground, in trees, bushes, cupboards, shelves, pools, and even in “plain sight.” People search with preconceived notions that dogs aren’t hampered by. They know what they smell and don’t ever think “he couldn’t be there.”
Patrol dogs offer not only a greatly enhanced search tool but provide greater safety for officers and suspects. Officers need not expose themselves needlessly and can be more certain something was not missed. A suspect whose hiding place has been compromised is less likely to try, or be able to ambush an officer and therefore, usually surrenders rather than forcing a confrontation which he would lose. Narcotic detector dogs find everything from a suspect’s last “joint” all the way up to the French Connection. Many futile, yet innovative ways have been devised to thwart the dogs, such as masking or disguising the odor of the hidden narcotics. Even so, the dogs can find the contraband, as many prison inmates can attest to. Narcotic Detector Dog teams search buildings, baggage, cars, trains and the like. Nearly all of us has owned a dog at some point in our lives and that often clouds our view of the complexities of making a proficient working dog. With all our dogs, training is intensive and on-going. Minimum training to get a Narcotic Detector Dog up to minimum standards is eight weeks and fourteen weeks with a Patrol Dog. Once there, training continues nearly daily for the dog’s career. LVMPD conducts all training in-house. We are fortunate to have skilled people who have been schooled in the German Police philosophies.
You may notice that when we talk about the Police Service Dog, it is their amazing olfactory capabilities that get top billing. Without their keen sense of smell, these dogs would be of little use for law enforcement. Most people have seen a demonstration at one time or another showing how the patrol dogs chase down suspects. You will see that here today. This, however, is a very small portion of what they do. They are search instruments, first and foremost. Unfortunately, the people we search for are uncooperative, often violent law breakers and their immediate apprehension is necessary. To that end, patrol dogs are trained to defend themselves, their handlers and apprehend fleeing criminals.
The police dog of today is like its human counterpart, professional and highly trained. All of LVMPD’s dogs are kenneled at the handler’s home. Handlers literally spend more time with their partners than any member of their family. Nearly all of LVMPD’s K-9 handlers have children. These dogs blend in well in the family environment. This interaction is a big reason why we have such “social” animals. They understand the difference between work and off time and behave accordingly. Many people refer to police dogs as “mean.” Mean dogs have no place in today’s Police Service Dog programs.
This is only a brief summary of Metro’s K-9 Detail.
100% of donations go to the care of current and retired K9 Units.