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Police training benefits K-9, SWAT units

By Staff | Sep 10, 2011

The Cape Coral Police Department wrapped up a three-day training session on Friday that was designed to better integrate the K-9 unit and SWAT team.

Five K-9s, the K-9 handlers and about two dozen SWAT team officers took part in the 30-hour training, which consisted of SKIDDS, or the SWAT & K-9 Interacting During Deployment School, and CATS – Canine Tactical School.

Members from the Fort Myers police and Lee, Charlotte, Collier and Sarasota sheriff’s offices also participated, as well as officers from Coral Gables.

“This is something new where we’re trying to integrate K-9 and SWAT,” Sgt. Dave McConnell, with the Cape police, said.

He explained that all of the CCPD units work together, but these two have done so in a limited capacity. Through the training, the SWAT and K-9 units learn each other’s techniques and become more acclimated to each other.

On Wednesday, the units started out by going through exercises meant to familiarize the K-9s with the SWAT team members, and vice versa.

“So that they could become comfortable with the dogs, and the dogs could get comfortable with them,” McConnell said.

The groups moved out to a shooting range in Charlotte on Thursday to incorporate gunfire and SWAT team movements into the mix, taking the partnership between the SWAT members and K-9 unit to the next level.

The final day involved three mock scenarios where the units had to work together. One scenario involved tracking a suspect, and another focused on clearing a building or area by using the K-9s as frontline “locating tools.”

The third scenario involved a high-risk vehicle assault, which could mean a kidnapper in a vehicle holding a person hostage, and how to approach it.

“Today is the culmination of everything,” McConnell said Friday.

Sgt. Carlos Mena, a SWAT team member, explained that the department recognized a few years ago that the K-9 unit was an untapped resource for his unit. It began to incorporate the dogs into operations and deployments.

“So we could use safer tactics and better rescue techniques,” he said, adding that the K-9s offer a lethal resource without pulling a trigger.

Still, the SWAT team was uncertain around the dogs. Mena admitted Friday that until this week’s training, he was somewhat scared of the canines.

“There was still some apprehension because we didn’t fully understand the dogs, and they didn’t fully understand us,” he said.

By the end of the training, though, SWAT members had the confidence and knowledge to control a K-9 in an incident if its handler suddenly could not.

“Now they’re pulling dogs off – they’re getting more comfortable,” Master Cpl. Jamie Grey, the handler for Cape K-9 “Daro,” said.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s training that’s filling in the gap.”

Mena agreed.

“We’re just putting things together. We’re making the team better,” he said.

One man came all the way from California to take part in the training. Steve Booth, with the SWAT and patrol unit of the Westminster Police Department, explained that his department recently got the OK to buy its first two K-9s.

Wanting to take part in the training because it was SWAT-specific to K-9s, Booth paid his own way and planned to take back the information he learned.

“It’s been really good,” he said of the training.

Through Canine Tactical Operations & Consulting, Brad Smith has been offering the training since 1997. This was the 118th class he has taught.

“It’s to make our jobs safer and easier,” Smith, a law enforcement officer with more than 20 years of experience as a K-9 handler and trainer, said.

He explained that the role of a K-9 is to serve as a tool or resource. For example, rather than sending an officer into a dark room or down a hallway to search for a suspect, the dog can take the lead, minimizing the danger.

“We’re making the job safer,” Smith said.

“I can train another dog,” he added, referring to a K-9 being injured or, unfortunately, killed in the line of duty. “We are not replaceable.”

According to McConnell, the CCPD is looking into using what it learned this week to create a quarterly training program for the SWAT and K-9 units.

“This has been a bad year for police officers,” he said. “It’s time for us to figure out a better way to do this, where there’s not a loss of life.”

For more information on SKIDDS and CATS, visit: www.skidds.com.

For information on Canine Tactical Operations & Consulting, contact Brad Smith at (626) 523-4028 or visit the website online at: www.K9TacOps.com.