Rochester police K-9 receives lifesaving vests

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published August 7, 2018

 K-9 officer Kitt sports his new tactical vest.

K-9 officer Kitt sports his new tactical vest.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 Police officer Michael Knight shows how K-9 Kitt’s new tactical vest allows Knight to easily lift Kitt off the ground when needed.

Police officer Michael Knight shows how K-9 Kitt’s new tactical vest allows Knight to easily lift Kitt off the ground when needed.

Photo by Donna Agusti

ROCHESTER — Keeping the citizens of Rochester safe is a job that often comes with dangerous suspects, materials and places.

The dangers are present for all officers, including the four-legged kind like Rochester Police Department K-9 Officer Kitt.

“Kitt is a patrol dog, so he handles tracking of persons — and that can be both bad guys and good guys,” said Rochester Police Chief Steve Schettenhelm. “We recently had a bank robbery, and we called Kitt in to try to track from that robbery scene.”

The Professional Law Enforcement Association Foundation, in partnership with the Rochester Junior Women’s Club, recently provided the Rochester Police Department with some protective vests for Kitt to help him on the job.

Rochester Junior Women’s Club President Mary Davis said the service organization raised $5,000 for the foundation, which then used the money to donate a ballistic vest and a tactical vest for Kitt — a German shepherd from Slovakia, who came to the city in October 2016.

Officer Michael Knight, Kitt’s handler, said the two vests will go a long way to help keep the dog safe in the line of duty.

Knight said the ballistic vest — which Kitt received last year — will help stop bullets and knives intended for Kitt, who is often the first to encounter violent lawbreakers and fleeing suspects.

“If the situation were to warrant having to use the dog in the instance where there is potential gunfire, I would put the ballistic vest on him. It’s not an everyday thing he would wear, because he can’t move as well in it because it is heavy and bulky,” he said.

Police dogs rely on equipment to determine when they’re on duty, according to Knight, who said Kitt knows he’s headed to work when he wears a nylon collar with the word “Police” on it.

“If he had that on, he knew he was going from at-home mode to going to work,” Knight explained.

A new tactical vest, donated last week, will replace Kitt’s “Police” collar as the new signal that he’s on duty.

“I equate it to a uniform shirt. It’s something that he is going to get accustomed to putting on before work,” said Knight.

Different equipment, paired with verbal cues from his handler, also help Kitt know what task to perform — whether it’s tracking, narcotics detection or an article search.

“I could bring out a tracking harness for Kitt, and he knows that when he puts that on he’s tracking. If I bring out a certain collar that snaps on, he knows he’s doing drug work,” Knight explained.

But in the K-9 world, Knight said, time is distance.

“It takes time to put those things on, and … the longer you take to do anything, the farther away somebody gets,” he said. “The tactical vest is all-encompassing. … It takes the place of all that other equipment, so it makes him more focused on a verbal command, as opposed to equipment cues.”

Schettenhelm said the tactical vest will also make handling Kitt easier for Knight.

“This tactical vest has a lot of ways to hook on to it, and there is a handle in the back of it. If Kitt and Mike are on a track and need to jump a fence, that handle helps to assist Kitt over the fence. It’s a piece of equipment that makes things much easier and safer for both the officer and the K-9 to do their job,” he said.

Schettenhelm said the K-9 team is a good ambassador for the department.

“People enjoy interacting with Kitt and with Officer Knight,”  he said.

For more information about the Professional Law Enforcement Association Foundation, which is volunteer-based and uses donations to help law enforcement and K-9 partners, visit foundation.plea.net.