By David Pan/Lynnwood Today editor
The public had a rare opportunity to take an inside peek into the world of police work Sunday afternoon at Veterans Park in Lynnwood.
As part of a fundraiser for Lynnwood Police’s K9 units, officers and their dogs took part in a live demonstration, allowing the public to understand the role canines play in police work.
Lynnwood Police have four dogs, three of which took part in the demonstration. The dogs are cross-trained to detect drugs and to track suspects.
As patrol generalists, the dogs “go out and look for criminal suspects, who’ve fled from scenes of crimes,” said Lynnwood Police Sgt. Cole Langdon. “They locate evidence. They’re very valuable. Most of what we do is tracking.”
About 60 to 65 percent of the time is spent on searching for suspects with the rest of the time spent dealing with drugs. Lynnwood’s dogs assist other agencies in North King and South Snohomish counties, who do not have K9 units.
Sunday’s demonstrations included having the dog apprehend a suspect, locate drugs in a vehicle and actually track a suspect.
The cost of training a police dog ultimately can run about $50,000. Lynnwood uses male German Shepherds, though other breeds and females are on duty for other departments.
Training starts with an initial two to three week evaluation and assuming all goes well, then the dogs and handlers undergo two and a half months/400 hours of training. So it’s at least three and a half months before the dog hits the streets.
“They have to pass certification,” Langdon said. “It involves a tracking test, locating of evidence, searching a defined area, like a junk yard, searching and clearing a building.”
The dogs also must demonstrate the ability to control and apprehend suspects. They have to release the suspect when instructed by their handler and to grab on to something when instructed to grab on.
“They’re invaluable once they get out on the road,” said Langdon, who added that he assisted Shoreline Police in locating a burglary suspect last week.
Police dogs usually are from 1 to 1 ½ years old when they join the police force and most usually retire when they reach 8 or 9 year old.
“It’s a very demanding job,” Langdon said. “It can be punishing to them in a few ways.”
Lynnwood’s dogs are very friendly and social animals but the public should take care in approaching a dog and his handler. After they’ve been on duty for a while, many of the dogs have encountered suspects, who have resisted being arrested. So the dogs might perceive someone charging up to meet them as not being friendly.
Langdon’s advice actually applies to all animals, not just police dogs.
“Let the dog come up to you,” he said. “In a setting like this (public demonstration) we want the dogs to come up to you and greet you on his terms. … That really goes for any animal. We want to make sure they’re comfortable and it’s them, who gets a chance to approach you, rather than you approaching them.”
When the dogs and their handlers are out in the field and actually are tracking suspects, Langdon suggests that people stay back from the dogs.
“They’re using their nose,” he said. “We need them to concentrate on the task at hand, which is searching for and locating those suspects.”
If someone is walking their dog, Langdon said that turning around and walking in the opposite direction would be helpful.
“It helps us quite a bit if they can secure their animal or kind of stay out of the way,” Langdon said. “We work through distractions, but it helps out. It helps our chances of success if they do that.”