This article is dedicated to Canton, Ohio PD K9 Jethro who was shot and killed in the line of duty January and VCSO K9 Forrest shot and killed November 2016.
The multiple approaching police sirens of Volusia County Sheriff’s Office patrol cars let the fleeing felon know that law enforcement was closing in on him. He had been discovered inside a building he had broken into and was now on the run on foot to avoid capture. The Volusia County Sheriff deputies who responded set up a quick, half square mile perimeter to contain the criminal. The bad guy, who had been recognized at the crime scene, had a long rap sheet so when his name was provided the deputies deployed to locations he had been known to hide-out including a nearby residence and a thickly wooded area just downslope off of a major dual carriage motorway.
The VCSO K-9 units on patrol headed towards the crime scene and the first responding K9 unit got a good scent and immediately began to track the subject through the neighborhood and down the central Florida roads. Sure enough, right on his trail, the K9 and his handler headed for the woods that the burglar had previously used as a hole-in-the-wall hideout. Closing on the criminal, the K9 practically dove into the steamy underbrush of the hot, humid pineland thick with palmettos, vines and scrub oak. Now deep in the woods, the K9 gave his handler indications that the bad guy was nearby so the deputy called out to the still unseen criminal to give up or the K9 would be released. The exact information provided was that if he did not show himself and surrender the deputy accurately informed him “YOU WILL GET BIT…”
Unwisely the bad guy failed to appreciate the capability of the VCSO’s thoroughly trained, qualified and tested service dogs to the extent that they routinely won national K9 competitions. Although most criminals and even terrorists fear the K9 service dog, a few dumb criminals still incorrectly think that they can evade a full service K9 who has their scent. After calling out several times and patiently waiting for a response that did not come, the deputy gave the command and released the K-9. The magnificent German Shepherd crouched low, bared his teeth and with a surge of power took off deeper into the brush.
A working service dog is faster than any human with some sprinting faster than thirty miles an hour for a short distance. Criminals are hopelessly outclassed in a one-on-one fight as service dogs are as quick as a barracuda, have an incredibly high pain tolerance and can bite with a pressure of up to three hundred pounds per square inch with fangs over an inch long. The canine sense of smell will let them know where you are long before you see them. A trained K9 can separate smells far better than humans so as an example, instead of smelling a pizza as we do, a dog can separately identify tomato paste, oregano, basil, pepperoni and mozzarella as individual ingredients! That is because humans have only 5 million scent receptors while a German Shepherd has 225 million. That means that they can move through a mob of people, an acrid factory or a wet field to unerringly find their target. Being afraid of a K9 is a very smart idea.
While there are about 4.5 million dog bites a year in the US, very few are from service dogs as most of the time they are used to simply track and flush while others are used for detection of drugs or explosives. Not every K9 is a bite dog or just a drug or bomb dog with some dogs trained in multiple specialties and each having their own distinct personality, abilities as well different levels of training. That means when you encounter a K9, although it poses no threat, it is unwise to try to pet the admittedly beautiful dog unless the handler says it is OK. Same with rushing up to the K9’s handler or car as the dogs are usually trained to protect their handler from assault and the dog could mistake that as an aggressive act and respond.
Volusia County has one of the best K9 organizations in the country (and the world) with dozens of dogs to cover the almost 1,500 square miles of Volusia County including several municipalities who also participate in the VCSO K9 program. Each dog must first pass a rigorous selection process that verifies the dog’s health, temperament and ability to take instruction to even begin the training process that never ends. Depending on the dog and the need, the dog is trained in explosive or drug detection and/or criminal apprehension in every environment, protect their handler and properly respond if the deputy pops open the car door in an emergency and most of all start AND STOP on command even if they are in a dead run towards a felon.
A lot of the training is directed towards the handler so he learns how to direct and interpret the actions and body language of the dog like the “head snap.” That happens when a K9 is “on odor” and gets a fresh scent and jerks his head around to follow it. The K9 continuing training includes a structured weekly in-service training that includes a yearly pass/fail evaluation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) who certifies the K9 in addition to a similar half year department test as well. That means when a VCSO or affiliated service dog is on the street it has been well trained, constantly evaluated and tested to do their job as a qualified law enforcement K9 alongside their human deputy sheriff partner.
How is it to have a K9 for a partner? I worked with and accompanied Volusia County Deputy Sheriff Tommy Reinhardt and his German Shepherd Lasco during the summer. Volusia County with its half million residents is located in the east-central part of Florida between the Atlantic Ocean to the East and the St. Johns River to the West. Volusia County contains Daytona Beach, a separate municipality which has one of the most beautiful and well-known beach and collection of sea-side resorts in the world.
I saw how Lasco worked during the weekly training sessions and while tracking so I got to see his real personality. I asked Deputy Reinhardt about how it was to have Lasco as a partner and he said “It is a lot of responsibly but I have faith in him as my partner. I have tracked some pretty bad guys like armed robbery subjects and violent criminals who have shot people in home invasions, so when I have had to go into a wooded area searching for one of these dangerous subjects all by myself it is plain scary but I have faith in Lasco’s ability and training so that gives me the confidence to push through and really helps us as a team to locate the subject.” Tommy laughed and continued, “Lasco never complains where I chose to eat and that is a positive! I guess I can best sum it up by saying we are best friends and as with all best friends, sometimes we fight and disagree but most of the time we are a perfect match!”
The silence of the pinelands was soon broken by the sounds of a criminal who was now pleading to be taken into custody. The K9 handler immediately called the dog off, who quickly responded and returned to a ready position to render further assistance if needed. It was not. The not-badly injured but now very submissive subject was very happy to be taken into custody, which he was, in addition to being provided medical attention to his non-life-threatening injuries. What would have taken all-day and hundreds of man-hours to search and locate the criminal who might have fought and injured one or more deputies, the one K9 identified, tracked, sought out and located the specific bad guy and then used non-lethal force to force his compliant submission with no danger to the K9’s human partners. The VCSO K9’s and their handlers are simply the best and multiply the abilities of north Florida law enforcement every day and every night.
Volusia County Sheriff’s Office
Northern Florida Volusia County has a total area roughly the size of Rhode Island with responsibilities from the Atlantic Ocean to the St. Johns River, and is triangulated between Cape Kennedy Space Center, Orlando and the famous north Florida beaches, so the area receives a tremendous amount of tourist traffic. The VCSO has approximately 460 sworn positions, 477 civilian employees, 219 volunteers staffing a variety of specialized units, including narcotics, auto theft, crime analysis, intelligence, major case and juvenile investigations, sex crimes, victim advocate, traffic, aviation, bomb disposal, dive team, K-9, marine unit, SWAT Team and homeland security, providing law enforcement services at Daytona Beach International Airport.
The Issue pistol of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is the Glock G35
GLOCK 35 Tactical/Practical Specifications
BARREL: 5.32 inches
OA LENGTH: 8.15 inches
WEIGHT: 24.52 ounces (empty)
ACTION: SAFE ACTION
FINISH: Black, surface hardened