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Public Service Feature: The Value of K-9 Officers

September 11, 2018

As Americans take time to reflect today on the events of September 11, 2001, they undoubtedly will remember where they were when they learned of the tragedy that took place.  They will also remember the loss of human life and the families that are still impacted by those losses today. But, fewer Americans remember Sirius.

 

Sirius was the only K-9 officer killed in the line of duty during the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.  His handler, Lt. Ken Lim, of the Port Authority Police Department barely made it out alive. Unfortunately, there was no saving Sirius who was kenneled for what his handler thought was his own safety, in the basement of the towers.

 

The pair is pictured here prior to the September 11, 2001 events.

 

Although there was a tremendous loss in the K-9 handling community during the events of that week, there was also amazing triumph.  An estimated 300 K-9 officers and their handlers took part in the search and rescue operations following the fall of the towers. Even more were deployed to support other sites of the orchestrated terror attacks in PA and Washington, DC.

 

The scenes were dangerous and grim.  Rocky piles of rubble and rebar. Dust and debris in the air.  Most of the citizens discovered by the K9 teams had already lost their lives.  However, using their elite senses of smell and hearing, these dogs were able to identify several survivors within the first 27 hours after the attacks occurred.  The power of these animals to persevere through extremely dangerous situations and emergencies is a valuable facet of any police force’s ultimate impact.

 

Calhoun County, SC Sheriff’s Office has three K-9 officers and their handlers to help support local emergencies, search and rescue events and criminal apprehension.   Sheriff Thomas S. Summers, Jr. noted in a recent interview that “typically everyone expects the sheriff to have at least a bloodhound. We are a small agency with limited resources.  Over the years, we had acquired some dogs and some really good handlers but we’d never had a real solid team before now.”

 

Sheriff Summers instituted the K-9 branch of his force this year stating, “we’ve put together this K-9 unit which is being trained by a very experienced deputy we just acquired from Lexington County.  He actually started with me back in 2002. He’s a real good guy; smart at what he does. We’ve got three dogs we are really excited about.”

 

 

 

The Sheriff is speaking of K-9 Deputy Adam Clayton who spent about 3 years in Calhoun County learning in 2002 and since then, worked on expanding his skills in Lexington County until earlier this year.

 

“I started out here and everything I have done so far has prepared me for the job I am taking on now leading the K-9 team.  Everything that happens in Lexington happens here, too. It just seems like it's on a smaller scale. But it still will happen here and we’re gonna be prepared for when it does happen,” said Clayton.

 

“We have two patrol dogs and one tracking dog.  Patrol dogs can respond to anything from suspects on the run or a suspect that is dangerous, maybe in a house or something.  They do bite. They do apprehend. Also, they are able to find drugs.

 

Now the blue tick, he is a tracking dog.  He tracks people – lost children, endangered adults or bad guys.”

 

Pictured here (L-R):  Deputy Adam Clayton and Angus, Sergeant Chris Golden and Blue, and Deputy Patrick Mangum and Axel.  Photo courtesy of Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office.

 

The blue tick hound, named Blue, is still relatively young and learning.  “The puppy – he will be our, for lack of a better term, man-tracking dog.  His main focus is gonna be – and the important thing to me – and this is what I tell my K-9 handlers - they can train those dogs to do anything.  But when someone calls me and says Sheriff my three year old has wandered away, my dogs better be able to find them. If they can do anything, they better be able to do that.  That’s the most important to me. I can catch criminals anytime. But that small child or elderly person who has wandered away from home, that is my focus,” said Summers.

 

“I sent the handlers to a man who trains police K-9s to look at some dogs.  And the handler called me and said I know you wanted a blood hound but I found this little blue tick who is awesome.  We will bring him back and try him and if we like him, we’ll pull the plug on it. So he brought him back – beautiful little puppy,” said Summers.

 

“We have hosted some other outside agencies to come in and train and they keep saying ‘that dog is phenomenal’.   I’ve got real high hopes for little Blue. I think he’s gonna be a real good dog.”

 

Blue (6 months old and partnered with Sergeant Chris Golden) and his K9 teammates Axel (a 4 year old Shepherd partnered with Deputy Patrick Mangum) and Angus (a 17 month old Belgian Malinois partnered with Deputy Clayton) will continue vigorous training to ensure they are compliant and successful in emergency situations when needed.  Deputy Clayton confirms, “Training is continual with K9s as it is with any law enforcement officer. It’s something you have to do on a regular basis to make sure you’re on top of your game for when we’re needed.”

 

Although the budget is not large for this unit, they have managed to make it work with what they have.  Deputy Clayton said, “We have a wide variety of different things that we use from toys as rewards, we have a bite suit for training and we have different things like tracking harnesses and tracking lines for the dogs tracking people.  We will also have our own drugs for training purposes.”

Deputy Mangum is a 6-year veteran of the K-9 handling team.  He was asked to describe a day in the life for him and his K-9.  “A day in the life: you spend a good bit of your time bonding and doing training to prepare for what you may have to do later.  You have to be bonded well with the dog or the dog won’t work with you and of course you won’t get the dog to listen to you. It’s a pretty busy day with all the training we do.”

 

Pictured here is Deputy Patrick Mangum’s right upper arm after a training exercise where he impersonated a criminal.  The deputy was wearing a bite suit and still sustained bruising and small puncture wounds.

 

But that training doesn’t go unrewarded.  “One of the biggest things you reward the dogs with that really gets them excited is verbal praise.  We have a tug or a ball or something else that they associate with as far as doing a good job and working for you,” said Mangum.

 

Although these dogs enjoy the praise they are not overly playful.  They do not operate under the same rules as a normal household pet.  Deputy Mangum explained, “They are working dogs and more like tools. They are friendly but are not like typical take-home pets.”

 

The relationship between a handler can be life or death sometimes.  Recently, a SC K-9 met an untimely death during the heat of the summer months.  Turbo, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever trained in explosive detection, passed away on July 28, 2018 in Columbia, SC.  He died of a “heat-related work injury” after being left in a police vehicle for over six hours.

 

When asked if something like this happening was a concern in Calhoun County, First Sergeant Ralph Crapse who oversees operations for the Sheriff’s Office noted that the K-9 units are given the utmost care when it comes to being deployed on assignments or travelling around the county.  “These dogs have A/C when it’s hot out and heat when it’s cold. They are given the luxury treatment just like a human would have because they are so valuable to us.”

 

Each Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office K-9 travels in a Chevy Tahoe outfitted with a comfort package designed for police K-9 units.  Each handler has a responsibility not only to the public but also to the dog with which he or she is partnered. “It’s something we take very seriously here,” affirmed Crapse.

 

Pictured here is the interior of a Chevy Tahoe with upgraded K-9 package including environmental controls.  Photo courtesy of odysseysv.com

 

Overall, Sheriff Summers is hoping the people of Calhoun County recognize the importance of this unit and the investment of time, care and resources that it consumes.

 

 “The county probably is excited, and listen, it has been such an honor to serve as their Sheriff and I’m looking forward to many more years as their Sheriff.  They have been so supportive of everything we have done. And that is how you build good strong law enforcement is to build community support and trust. And that’s what we have here in Calhoun County.”

 

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For more information on the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department, see www.calhounscsheriff.com.

 

For more information on the 9/11 memorial, see https://www.911memorial.org/.

 


 

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