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A Closer Look At K9’s

Samantha Wright
Boise State Public Radio

Police departments across the country often employ the help of dogs alongside their human companions.  Here in Idaho, Boise’s Police Department K-9 team is growing.  Later this month, two new dogs will join the unit.  What goes into making a police dog?

Officer Randy Arthur opens up his patrol car and out pops his K9 partner, Vigo

Randy Arthur “Come here…urgh…sit, sit, everybody has to pet him.  And he’s a Belgian Malinois, a type of small shepherd from Holland.  They’re akin to the German Shepherd but you can tell they’re much smaller and a little petite-looking generally speaking.”

It’s the weekly training session for K9’s.  The sun sets over Boise as police cars fill up the parking lot.  Officers talk and laugh but six-year-old Vigo has his attention focused on a snake-like toy in Arthur’s hand.

Randy Arthur “This is just a tug toy of his, it’s one of them that we’ve used for drug detection and such, so he sees that he’s gonna start barking in a sec, cause he really, he wants [barks], he wants his toy, he doesn’t want me yapping.”

Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
An officer puts on the protective suit

Vigo is trained to apprehend suspects, and sniff out illegal drugs.  When he’s not on the job, Vigo goes home at night with Arthur.  So does Bullet, who lives with his handler, Sergeant Jerry Walbey from the Garden City Police Department.

Jerry Walbey “He’s in the house with us, lives inside the house and is actually a very good house dog.”

Dogs like Bullet can cost eight to ten thousand dollars.  That doesn’t include training or special equipment for the dogs, like a bite suit.  On a grassy slope, Bullet eyes a man climbing into the bulky, red training suit.

Jerry Walbey “That would be our simulated felony suspect, so…sir your under arrest, I need you to come over here and put your hands up please, sir if you don’t comply, I’ll have to send the little dog…you send that little dog, I’ll kill that little thing…blurppppp…ahhh!”

That “blurppp” is actually the command to release Bullet, who lunges onto the suit with his teeth, and hangs on.

He won’t let go, until Walbey tells him to.

Jerry Walbey “Bullet, ulp!”

Vigo’s training is a bit different today, he’s wearing a muzzle.

Randy Arthur “Stop or I’ll send the dog!  Stop or I’ll send the dog!  Blurppppp. No, no, no, no…no, no, no!”

With the muzzle on, Vigo can’t bite, but he can ram his head into the suspect, over and over again.  Arthur says he won’t quit until he’s told to.

Randy Arthur “Yeah, he really likes his job, so,he’s out there to protect me, while I’m out there trying to protect you guys, so he’s got to stay in that fight.”

Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
Bullet latches on to a simulated suspect

In the middle of training, a call comes in, requesting a K9.  Ruwa and his handler, Officer Steve Bonas, take off.  The head of the K9 Unit, Lieutenant Alan Cavener explains there’s a man holding a knife.

Alan Cavener “The person is, sounds like he’s suicidal, he’s made some threats to the other residents that live at this house, they’ve called police and at this time it sounds like the suspect in this case is basically the only one inside.”

Officers surround the house, a negotiator talks to the suspect over the phone.

“[Radio Chatter] He’s got a real issue with the dog right now, we’re asking if you can back the other way, at least out of view so if he comes out the front door, he doesn’t see the dog.”

Cavener says the K9 has a big physiological effect.  This suspect knows the dog is there.

Alan Cavener “And so that’s part of what he’s saying is, I’m not coming out until you get the dog back, so hey, we’ll get the dog back, if you’ll give yourself up.”

That’s exactly what happens.  The suspect drops the knife, and slowly comes out the front door.

Alan Cavener “We’re pleased that that the suspect gave up, and it’s always better for us when a call can be resolved without the use of a canine and without anybody getting hurt.”

The Boise Police Department has had K9’s since 1995.  When fully staffed, there are five drug dogs, four dogs that can sniff drugs and catch suspects, and four other dogs, trained to sniff out explosives at the airport.  Sergeant Jerry Walbey, with Garden City, says his department has three K9’s.  The budget for food and care for the three dogs is around four thousand dollars a year.  That’s out of a three million dollar budget.  Walbey says that’s money well spent.

Jerry Walbey “They certainly have a lot of abilities and senses that we as humans can’t replicate, so that’s a bonus for us.”

Bullet keeps his eyes fixed on Walbey as he talks.

Jerry Walbey “That’s my boy.”

Other police officers share a similar bond with their dogs.  They all agree that K-9’s are a good investment.  Out of a 48-million dollar budget, Boise Police spend 25-thousand dollars a year on the K-9 unit.   Meridian Police spend 55-hundred dollars on their five dogs, out of a budget of almost twelve million dollars.  I’m Samantha Wright, KBSX News.


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