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Thursday, April 8, 2010

North Florida’s K-9 Officers Hold Training Exercise at Jackson County Sheriff’s Office

Forming a coordinated network of K-9 skills among area law enforcement agencies By Sid Riley

On Wednesday and Thursday, April 7 & 8, many of the K-9 officers in North Florida gathered for a special two day training exercise at the Jackson County Sheriff’s facility on Highway 90, West of Marianna. The session was taught by K-9 Training Specialist, Ross Welborn, who is an officer for Florida Fish and Wildlife. He has worked in the K-9 arena for thirteen years, first as a handler, and then as a trainer. He is a qualified trainer for both canine training and handler training.

The two day course involves a day of class work, followed by a day of practical exercises conducted with the handlers and their “buddies”. The classroom work will include such subjects as “K-9” Case Law, “Perimeter Assessment”, and “Drug Interdiction”. The valuable information acquired by the K-9 Officers during this session will then be passed on in internal departmental training sessions to other officers within the involved organizations.

For example, it is often important that the evidence squad working a crime scene do so with an awareness of the potential need for K-9 tracking or detection. For example, if an evidence gatherer happens to sit in the seat where a suspect sat, or grabs the steering wheel where the suspect held the wheel, they can contaminate the scent, and prevent effective use of the dog’s skills. This type of awareness training helps assure maximum use of K-9 capabilities within an organization.

The current K-9 unit within the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department was started in February of 2009, when K-9 Officer Sean Hill and his “canine buddy”, Homer, joined the force. Since then a second Officer and dog have been added. Both of these dogs are Drug Detection Dogs. K-9 usage within law enforcement is not limited solely to drug detection. Explosives detection, firearms detection, wildlife detection, and of course tracking are all needed skills for various agencies. Some dogs are trained in more than one of these skills.

The vehicles used to transport these canines are especially equipped with extra cooling systems, and alarm systems which activate horns and sirens when the inside temperature reaches levels which are dangerous for the dog. “I once had the cooling system in my car become inoperative, and my dog might have been killed if the alarm system had not activated,” Officer Hill explained.

Officer Welborn stated that his current “buddy”, Harley, is his third dog. “These dogs become part of your family. You are as attached to them almost as much as you are to one of your own children,” he stated as Officer Hill nodded agreement. “It would absolutely devastate me if my dog were to be killed because of my negligence, so these alarm systems are absolute necessities.”

The inter-agency coordination among the K-9 forces in North Florida is providing several advantages to the involved law enforcement groups. Obviously, one of these advantages is enhanced training, and another is assistance in problem solving and sharing of capabilities and skills. After completion of this training program, all of the participating area agencies will be a little better at performing their task of protecting the public.

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