Two new officers have officially joined the Billings Police force.
Dutch and Susan are the newest Belgian Malinois members of the BPD K9 unit.
They join senior service dog Cuff and narcotic specialist Kooko, along with human officers Rob Vickery, David Firebaugh, Richard Gilmore and Jeremiah Adams to make up the K9 unit.
Officer Firebaugh traveled to Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania to select the dogs and complete their initial training, a process which takes 4-6 weeks.
He explained that the training process is a very dog and handler specific procedure that can vary in length tremendously based on the bond between the animal and trainer, as well as the animal’s aptitude at learning the desired tasks.
The desired tasks for the dogs of the BPD are two-fold, narcotics recovery and patrol services. Narcotics recovery includes the detection of 4 specific narcotics, marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
Patrol services include things like human detection and bite training.
While these are the things that the dogs are being used for here in Billings, Officer Firebaugh notes that the dogs can be taught an incredibly wide range of skills.
He says that they can be trained to track anything with an odor, and since most things have a specific scent, the dogs can be used to recover just about anything.
One of the most modern skills that these dogs can learn is the recovery of hidden electronics. These devices have a scent that the dogs can be trained to hone in on in order to uncover hidden flash drives or discs containing illegal materials.
The cost to bring a new canine officer on board is $14,000, which includes the training course.
Officer Firebaugh says that their goal on a daily basis is to show the community that this investment is worth it and to better the community in which they serve.
It is his opinion that the dogs are assets to the police force and even with the increase in police dog usage in recent years he would like to see more K9 units in the field.
He says that the dogs reduce the threat to human safety in many situations and also allow for a more efficient distribution of police manpower by letting fewer officers accomplish tasks and by reducing the time it takes to complete sweeps of buildings or searches of property.
At the end of the day the dogs go home with their handlers and unwind from work much the same way human officers do, by enjoying relaxing time with their families.
Most of the dogs have careers that last from 6-10 years and officer Vickery, the senior member of the squad, says the dog’s physical and mental health is closely monitored to determine when their period of service should come to an end.
At the end of their careers for the cost of $1 the handlers will have their dogs signed over to them by the chief of police so their dogs can retire with them.