For the second week of the citizen police academy Sept. 15, police working dog handler Sgt. Don Wood gave attendees a look at what a K-9 unit does in the course of an average day.
Wood has been with the Altus Police Department or APD for nine years. He’s a retired member of the Air Force. Before working for the APD, he worked as a flight chief, certified reserve officer in Blair, and in army investigations, but he said that his passion is working as a handler in a K-9 unit.
Wood and his eight-year old German shepherd Sammy, have been together since 2010 when they first met in Tulsa. Sammy, then only a puppy, was already trained in basic narcotic detection and basic obedience.
“She looks like she’ll eat your lunch in the back of the car,” Wood said. “Well, she looked about the same in her kennel when we first met.”
Though she appears to be like any other dog, Sammy is all business when she’s at the end of a leash, and she is a certified officer through the State of Oklahoma. She and her co-officer, Caesar, go through their own special training with their handlers before working on a traffic stop.
Sammy and Caesar are the two canines serving at the APD. They are not trained to be aggressive, but that does not mean they do not use their natural assets in intense or threatening situations. While some departments train their canines to patrol and attack on command, Sammy and Caesar are only trained to detect narcotics, search articles and track.
Their keen sense of smell means superior courts consider them reliable to determine probable cause for a search — something that has been supporting in the court system. Their long noses and natural instinct to track make them essential to the APD.
“They can do many things we can’t,” Wood said.
Officers may use a K-9 if there is reasonable suspicion that an average traffic stop may be more than it appears. Officers check for suspicious behaviors that they have been trained to detect before making this judgment call. One common misconception is that when Sammy, or any other canine officer, sniffs around a vehicle that it is considered a search. It isn’t until Sammy smells something she’s been trained to find. Then the human officer determines whether or not to conduct a search.
At the end of the day, it might be nothing more than a serious game of fetch to Sammy, but the work she does to help the APD is no joke. K-9 dogs are recognized by courts across the country to be superior in sight, smell, and hearing, and therefore capable of aiding their handlers in innumerable ways.
Reach Katrina Goforth at 580-482-1221, ext. 2077.