In 1899 in Ghent, Belgium, law enforcement began utilizing dogs as a way for their departments to save money in lieu of hiring additional officers.
In 1907, after hearing Belgium’s success stories, a New York city Lieutenant traveled to Ghent. He received training and returned with five dogs. Shortly after that, the canine officers literally hit the ground trailing and sniffing out crime.
Now, K-9 units are an invaluable asset to the majority of police departments across the United States, including right here in Lafourche Parish.
The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office currently has four K-9 units. The dogs are donated to the sheriff’s department by a Houston based nonprofit organization, K-94Cops. The organization's mission is to build a safer future by placing K-9 officers in communities and schools at no cost.
LPSO Lieutenant Mark Adams is Commander of the K-9 section within the department. Lt. Adams K-9 partner is a Belgian Malinois / German Shepherd mix named Hoss.
Lt. Adams has a secondary partner; a yellow Lab named Muck, who is a bomb-sniffing dog. In addition to sniffing out explosives, dogs trained in this aspect also have the ability to locate hard drives and thumb drives!
The other K-9 units include Deputy Lance Leblanc with his newest partner, Beretta, another Belgian Malinois / German shepherd mix. There is also Deputy Beau Prejean with canine officer Mako, a Belgian Malinois and Deputy Stephen Schieffler with his Dutch Shepherd named Dio.
These fearless K-9s are considered full fledge police officers. Dedicated and loyal to a fault, police K-9’s do not question and do not hesitate to put their lives on the line every day in the same manner a human officer does.
Amazingly, the K-9s even have the uncanny ability to be able to tell the difference between twins and can even jump into the window of a moving vehicle!
The handler and canine partner attend all high risk, or priority calls for service and many times work in multiple parish jurisdictions. In addition to traffic stops and narcotics, K-9 units participate in robbery calls, missing persons, escaped fugitives, bomb threats, and domestic calls, just to name a few.
We asked how the canine officers "track" and Officer LeBlanc said, "We don't need an article of clothing in a tracking scenario. We take the dog to the last known location of the person we are tracking. The dog will pick up on the ‘hottest’ or most recent odor."
Recently, each LPSO canine officer received a state-of-the-art Kevlar protective vest. Generally, tactical situations require the K-9s to adorn this protective gear. Although, handler Deputy Lance LeBlanc explained that in some instances it is not feasible for them to wear their vest.
"If we are tracking a fugitive in the dead heat of summer, Officer Beretta can't wear the heavy gear because sometimes she will track up to six miles. If Berretta had it on in the intense heat, she could die of a heat stroke, especially since she already has a fur coat on,” said LeBlanc.
The bond between these canine officers and their handlers is unmistakable.
“We spend more time with each other than we do with our own families. We are constantly together,” stated LeBlanc.
We asked LeBlanc to recall his most memorable call to service with his K-9. It was one of the more dangerous calls he and his retired canine partner, Rico attended in December of 2012.
"Rico and I received a call for service about a suspect who carjacked a victim on Highway 90 near the LA 182 exit. The armed suspect fled, so I sent Rico in. It was a very tense situation. Luckily, Rico apprehended the suspect, and all ended well."
LeBlanc and Rico received a commendation for their collective efforts in apprehending the suspect.
Characteristically, K-9s are as young as six months old when they begin their basic training. Training age and time depends upon temperament and breed of canine. Many times, law enforcement prefers herding breeds due to their agility, speed, and intelligence.
Once the basics are in place, the K-9 will meet their handler and commence a more rigorous training, which can last eight to ten hours a day and up to eight weeks. In this setting, the dog trains to handler and handler to the dog.
A canine cop remains in service for about ten years. When it comes time to retire, the canines’ partner gets priority on adopting. Much like Deputy LeBlanc did when he adopted Rico upon his retirement.
We asked LeBlanc what his newest partner Beretta does when she is not on duty. He laughed and said, “She loves to play ball, and she will do just about anything to get a chance to play with her toys!”
Posted on Fri, August 18, 2017
by Holly McKeon, Contributing Writer