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Training Articles

2000 Police K-9 Tactical Challenge Critique

Sgt. William M. Nott Jr.
New London Police Department

The instructors of this years K-9 Tactical Challenge, held this year on March 23 & 24, have collectively put together a very thorough critique of the K-9 teams that attended this year's workshop. This is a general critique and does not single out any individual K-9 team. 

Remember to consult your training office, policies & procedures, to avoid a conflict within your agency.

This critique is not designed to advocate any particular training method. It is designed to recognize areas of training and deployment that can be improved utilizing whatever method necessary to safely complete a "High Risk K-9 Deployment".

Officer Safety Issues:

Contact Officer vs. Cover Officer: Imperative to know the difference. This role can change as the situation dictates, understand each role and be ready to assume either at anytime during contact with a suspect.

Cover vs. Concealment: It is imperative you know the difference and make adjustments to safe positions of cover, when at all possible. The instructors agree that the prone position should be a last resort cover position. However, it might be the only position you can utilize to maximize your available cover. 

Weapon Retention and Handcuffing: Keep your finger off the trigger unless you are presented with a deadly force situation. Maintain a low ready position and keep your weapon close to your body. Do not walk around corners presenting your firearm first and do not separate yourself from your weapon. Holster your weapon when you need a place to put it. Do not attempt to handcuff a suspect with your weapon out. Secure your weapon and make sure your "cover officer" knows your plan of action. 

Weapon Retention & Handcuffing: If you choose to handcuff the suspect by yourself, place the suspect in a prone position. Holster your weapon and handcuff the suspect "quickly” and “firmly". If the suspect begins to resist, separate yourself from him. Do not feel obligated to physically engage the suspect. You may decide to re-deploy your K-9 if necessary.

Tactical Reloading: Many officers chose to reload with their heads down and lost sight of their adversary. Several officers chose to place the empty magazines back in their pouches or in their B.D.U.'s. Very few could tactically reload without looking at their weapon.

If you are close enough to your backup and you jam, communicate to your backup the situation. If you cannot clear your jam or your weapon is broken, you have to get out of the kill zone. Make a serious effort not to let your backup get to far away from you. You can easily be separated and cut off from each other.

Police K-9 Issues:

Control at a distance: As K-9 officers we need to have the ability to recall the dog to our position of cover. We don't want to have to leave cover to take control of the K-9. Many officers were forced to leave cover because the K-9 would not release or leave the concealed suspect's location. 

Control at Cover: Being able to down your K-9, draw your weapon and engage a suspect in a dialogue, should be one of our training goals. Being able to communicate with the suspect or backup officer, without yelling over your dog's barking, should be another goal.

Placing the leash under your shoe to prevent the dog from breaking forward can easily throw you off balance, knocking you from cover. It could also cause you to have an A.D. If you cannot control your K-9 in a stationary position during a high-risk situation, place it on a leash.

Tolerance to Movement: Dialogue, movement, tripping, falling and running to or from cover, are stimuli that create control problems in your partner. Most police K-9 teams do not complete tolerance drills to improve the dog's obedience control when actions like this occur.

Deployment Decisions: We observed K-9 officers that were presented with an immediate threat by a visible suspect. There was a sense of urgency to get to the K-9 and deploy as quickly as possible. Several dogs got by the handlers as they dismounted; looking for a target they could not see. Other K-9's just ran at whoever was in the immediate area. In both situations the K-9 officer was more concerned with his dog than the threat presented before him/her.

Some K-9's were successfully deployed, but when the situation deteriorated, the handler had no cover when gunfire erupted. As a result of the deployment, officers were hesitant to return fire, even though their life depended on it. Most officers stated they did not want to hit their dog. Others could not out the dog or call the dog back to cover.

These scenarios were specifically designed to improve decision making when deploying your K-9. We all agree that the officer should deal with the threat first, either challenging it or maintaining it, until adequate manpower is gathered to deal with the situation safely. Do not split your focus, stay with your immediate threat until it is safe to deploy your partner. 

If you deploy your K-9 on a threat and the dog engages. Train and prepare how to handle a second threat, like getting by a vehicle the suspect just bailed from. You may decide to approach the car and clear it by hand, while your dog remains engaged. Whatever your decision is, "train for it". 

Training: The basic training of patrol K-9 teams has to be modified and increased to meet the demand that police agencies place on them. The basic obedience routine we now complete for certification should go the way of the steam engine.

The demand for "less than lethal force alternatives" is increasing. As a result, the K-9 team will be placed into more high-risk calls for service than ever before. All police officers have been told, "you will do on the street what you do in training".

As we gradually increased the stimulus and risk in the scenarios, your stress increased. Your heart rate, pulse and respiration increased. Some suffered from auditory exclusion, not hearing what the suspect, backup or instructor said. Your thought process was interrupted and "delayed". 

Training: Leashes were neatly rolled up although shots were being fired. Leashes were being placed around necks where they could catch on anything as you ran around or moved to cover. Leashes were wrapped around gun belts, where they restricted access to magazines, impact weapons and firearms.

It was evident that training scenarios involving the location of a suspect do not often end with a full custody process. Attempt to end your training scenarios with a custody drill as often as possible. It is excellent training for you and your K-9. 

Remember that police K-9's learn a conditioned behavior through repetition and positive reinforcement. Police officers are no different, if you continue to train repetitively and reinforce your control, tactics and K-9 skills, you will also become more confident and more proficient.

Communication: Communication with your backup officer's is paramount; keeping your "wingman" close is very important. If you get too far apart, communication becomes difficult and you lose sight of your backup officer. 

If you or your backup experiences a weapon malfunction or one of you runs out of ammunition, you will both have a better opportunity of surviving if you are together, or reasonably close. Train using all types of cover and concealment and practice a tactical retreat, live to fight another day!!!!! 

In one scenario during a firefight in a dark industrial area, a handler observed a subject thought to be a suspect, approaching from the left rear flank. The handler turned, obviously startled and under pressure, firing at the subject. The handler shot the backup officer with fake rounds!!!!!!!

Closing: If we may be of any help, please do not hesitate to call on any of the instructors that participated in this training workshop. We hope that this training program provided you with a self-examination of your skills as a police officer and K-9 handler. Remember, TRAIN HARD AND TRAIN REAL!!!!!




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