Warren PD going ‘all in’ on new K-9 program

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published December 1, 2017

WARREN — The Warren Police Department has taken the first steps toward returning K-9 units to the city’s streets.

On Nov. 28, the City Council unanimously approved an appropriation in the amount of $102,775 to create a new program, set to initially include four dogs specialized in tracking and narcotics detection, and training for their respective Warren police handlers.

Speaking before the council, Deputy Commissioner Matt Nichols and Capt. Robert Ahrens said the training program and dog selection process will be conducted through the United States Border Patrol’s facility in Front Royal, Virginia.

Absent a program of its own currently, Ahrens said the Warren Police Department has called on assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol when the services of a K-9 are needed.

More than a dozen Warren officers have applied to undergo training, and the selection process remains ongoing.

Ahrens said the department will likely attempt to obtain four Belgian Malinois dogs. He said top breeders from Europe bring their dogs to the U.S. Border Patrol facility, where Warren will be able to select animals to meet the department’s needs.

“What we’re able to do is, basically, get the first-round draft choices,” Ahrens said.

He said the Belgian Malinois is slightly smaller than a German shepherd, is exceptionally receptive to training and is less likely to bite.

The dogs to be sought initially by Warren will specialize in patrol tracking operations and narcotics detection. As the program evolves, Ahrens said the department would like to add additional dogs, including one trained to detect explosives and firearms.

Dogs routinely begin service at 1 1/2 years old. They have a service life of about 10 years and a life span of 12-14 years.

Police handlers are full-time companions with their assigned animals, who live in homes with the officer’s family when not on duty and typically remain with them when they retire from service.

Nichols said training through the U.S. Border Patrol will ensure continuity and consistency that will support the commitment being made by the city. The officers selected for the program will train full time in Virginia for seven weeks. After that, each of the four K-9 units will work a normal 12-hour shift every other day, meaning that one unit will always remain on duty in a patrol function.  That’s a departure from how the program was run years ago, when fewer dogs and trained handlers meant they often worked in a “reserve” capacity until needed.

Nichols said Warren Police Commissioner Bill Dwyer made returning the program a priority when he came back to lead the Police Department earlier this year.  

“We are fully committed to the program. We are fully committed to the city, and we are fully committed to the officers who are going to give us the commitment, to give them the support to succeed,” Nichols said. “There’s so many different facets of this program that makes it so advantageous to us. It’s really going to be a top-notch program.”

Ahrens said that by getting four dogs, the department is going “all in” on a program that should be a “complete success.”

“We’re getting the best training in the country, the best dogs in the country. Our selection process, we’re getting the assistance of the Border Patrol. We’re going to have the best dogs available,” Ahrens said.

Going forward, he said the department will move to outfit previously purchased Ford Explorers for K-9 use. The vehicles had been awaiting fitting for standard patrol deployment.  

“You definitely have our support. Best wishes for the success of the unit,” City Councilman Steven Warner said.