Members of the Laurinburg Police Department say that the force’s newest members are also the most doggedly devoted to their work.
Det. Chris Strickland and Patrolman James Munger graduated from a five-week training program last month, bringing back with them two new canine colleagues.
Wise and Jack replace the officers’ former partners, serving the department by helping to locate narcotics as well as tracking fugitives and missing persons.
“Both of these dogs are passive indicator dogs,” Strickland said. “They find the odor and sit and stare, or sudden breathing changes and stuff that we’re trained to notice in the dogs tell us where the odors are.” The Laurinburg Police Department has operated a K9 unit since 1990. In addition to Munger with Wise and Strickland with Jack, the unit also includes Craig Wilkerson and Chief. Memorable uses of the dogs have included finding patients with Alzheimer’s, locating suicidal individuals, and tracking larceny suspects to their front doors.
“They’re such an asset,” said Munger. “I did a track a couple of years ago where there was a break-in to a business and the dog tracked all the way to the door of where the person went.” Wise and Jack are Belgian Malinois imported from Europe - Jack even holds a Royal Dutch Police Dog Association (KNPV) title for his mastery of the many skills required of a police dog. Laurinburg police acquired the dogs from K2 Solutions, Inc., a company based in Southern Pines.
“Once they hit here, in a faciltiy like K2, those trainers begin to work them to see what part of law enforcement or the military they’re most suitable for,” said Strickland. “They then send people like me and James through a five-week course, which is learning how to be a professional with that dog, what that dog actually does, and how to fix any problems that you see when you’re training. You start out from the basics: how they’re taught to find the odor of narcotics, how they’re taught to track, and the actual apprehensions, which we very rarely use.”
In the week since they graduated, Wise and Jack have each gotten a major find under their belts.
“I stopped a vehicle on Park Drive and there were three guys in it, and they seemed somewhat nervous,” Strickland said. “I actually pulled Jack out and walked him around the vehicle. He sat by the passenger side door, which was an indication that he smelled a narcotic. A search of the vehicle revealed about 20 grams of marijuana that they had hidden under the console.”
Wise came to the rescue last week, tracking a suspect after a robbery from the Dollar General on 15-501.
“I casted my dog Wise on the scent area,” said Munger. “He actually tracked into the woodline and gave his change of behavior that showed me that he had gone from his track to an air scent which meant to me that I was close to the suspect. At that time the suspect heard us because we had given our call that we were coming in with the canine - he actually ran out of the woods and ran right into one of our perimeter officers.
“These are two really good finds because we just graduated these dogs last Friday,” Munger added. “The dogs haven’t even worked a full week yet and they’re already making progress for the city.”
Although the dogs are highly useful in locating drugs and drug money, finding $50,000 in 2010, Strickland said that their tracking abilities are a skill that the community may one day need to call upon.
“These are the things that any of us could go through one day, you never know,” Strickland said. “Alzheimer’s strikes anybody, or something happens in your life and you have a hard time dealing with it - these are things that happen to everyday citizens.”
Fully-trained police dogs can cost up to $15,000. The Laurinburg Police Department paid around $7,000 each for Wise and Jack, who can be expected to work for roughly seven or eight years. According to Munger, Laurinburg got a deal, as K2 also supplies the military with bomb and IED dogs for special ops and Navy SEAL teams.
“A small place like Laurinburg, we are getting the same dogs that our military armed forces special units are getting, the same quality of dog,” Munger said. “It’s just amazing.” Although some may think of police dogs as aggressive, they are no more vicious than any other canine, and will only attack on command or in self-defense.
“To the dog, it’s a game,” Munger said. “It’s about the final reward, what we have is a toy for them. When we come up on a suspect, what happens with the dog totally depends on the suspect. If the suspect is hiding in the woods, the dog is going to come up and give his final response, which is to sit or lay down, because the chief does not want aggressive dogs. How that person acts in the end, whether they brandish a weapon or they threaten or they may hurt someone else - the dog will not react until he’s commanded to.”
“The dog is going to defend himself,” Strickland added. “If we’re tracking someone and the first thing they do is jump out at the bushes and kick at the dog, the dog is going to bite him because he’s actually trained to protect himself and his handler.”
In fact, the dogs’ innate talents have many applications when it comes to the myriad aspects of police work - including serving as community ambassadors.
“We call them community-friendly dogs,” Munger said. “We don’t want the community scared of our dogs - they’re police officers just like we are. The scope of work they do is anywhere from area searches for articles that may have been lost, narcotic searches, building searches, all the way up to demonstrating at an elementary school with kids all around them and they just sit there wagging their tails just as happy as they can be.”