Taking A Bite Out Of Crime

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What is the reward for a K-9 dog that works tirelessly, seven days a week, with no pay or complaints?

They get to bite the bad guy. Hard.

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During a training session Marco waits at attention as officer Sean Clarke shouts to a suspect in a metal building to come out or a canine unit will be sent in to find him during a chase and find scenario. Clarke is a K-9 officer with the Goodyear Police and Marco is a Belgian Malinois, a breed well suited to a career in law enforcement.

"It felt like my arm was stuck in a vice," said Gila County Deputy Ray Van Buskirk, after being bitten by Roman, a German Shepherd.

A bite suit protected Van Buskirk from Roman's jaws.

"I had to constantly roll my arm inside the suit," he said.

Van Buskirk volunteered to be the bad guy and bite victim in one of eight training scenarios for the Payson Police Department's 16th annual Canine Officer Survival Seminar.

At the July 7 to 10 event, some 100 teams of K-9 units go through different real-life situations to train dogs and officers on survival tactics.

In one scenario at Payson Concrete and Materials Inc., Marco and his handler, Goodyear Police Officer Shawn Clarke, were told a suspect had fled from a vehicle and was hiding somewhere in the supply yard.

While walking the yard, Marco tugged on his leash near a cement-mix truck. Clarke did not immediately notice his dog had signaled him to the presence of a second suspect in the yard.

This is a classic scenario in law enforcement, said Detective Les Barr. If you are told there is one suspect, you have to assume there could be two.

"We are trying to train officers to read and trust their dogs," Barr said. All too often, an officer will tell his dog to heel and not recognize the signals.

"The goal of the seminar is to try to get officers to realize this could happen on the street," and it is better to learn the lessons here, he said.

The cost to participate in the training scenarios is $100 per K-9 unit. The annual recertification fee is $90.

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Jake has a hold on this suspect and won't let go during a simulated "suspect with a firearm" scenario as part of a law enforcement training week involving K-9 in Payson. Heather Kennedy is the suspect and Jake is handled by Scott Callender of the Mesa Police Department.

The cost to purchase a K-9 is high. An untrained dog costs from $6,000 to $10,000, said Barr.

"You can't just take any dog," he said. They have to be bred a certain way and have attributes like intelligence and aggression.

It can take four months to train a dog. They can be trained for single or dual purposes, such as patrol and bomb or patrol and narcotics.

A well-trained dog can find a suspect in a matter of seconds, when it could take officers several minutes, moreover, a suspect that is bitten is less likely to injure an officer, said Barr.

"The dog is used as a tool," he said.

The seminar started in Payson as a way for Valley officers to get out of the heat. It now attracts dogs and officers from all over the world, said Barr.

Arizona is unique because all K-9 units are part of the Arizona Law Enforcement Canine Association (ALECA). Most states do not have an organization similar to ALECA set up. Other states come to Payson to see how we all get along so well, Barr said.

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