Police officer’s best friend… a criminal’s worst enemy
*Citizen’s Police Academy* By Julie Gerke
Editor’s note: Citizen’s Police Academy is a weekly series by Julie Gerke, who is participating in the local 12-week class that educates adult students on the work and procedures of local law enforcement.
When Ares is looking for something, you better hope that “something” is not you. The Jacksonville Police Department K-9 dog, a 12-year-old Belgian Malinois, may track evidence you dropped, find drugs or clamp his teeth into your arm or leg.
Ares and his handler, JPD (Jacksonville Police Department) Officer Jordan Poeschel, showed off the dog’s skills during a class of the citizen’s police academy, drawing a mix of praise and gasps as the animal sniffed out a bag of cannabis in the training room, followed the “fear scent” left on a set of car keys and attacked the (protected) arm and hand of a pretend bad guy.
The demonstrations were part of a class that focused on use of force and the determination of certain police actions as appropriate or inappropriate.
K-9s and their handlers work as a team; the handler first picks an appropriate dog, then the pair has 12 weeks of training along with periodic certification. Ares recently was recertified in finding scents after detecting a number of odors and ignoring fake ones.
The dog, who came from Germany, responds to commands in German, Czech and English. “Zoeken,” for instance, instructs the dog to search for evidence; Ares is so conditioned to follow that order that Poeschel spelled out the word, rather than saying it, when talking to the class.
The dog’s correct responses are rewarded with various tug toys.
“[K-9s are] always focused on ‘What’s next, what’s next,’” Poeschel said. “It’s a constant power struggle with them. … They’re constantly looking for something to do.”
After showing how Ares can find items based by scent, Poeschel commanded the dog to seek and find a “bad guy” hiding in a shed. The dog advanced quickly, launching toward JPD Lt. Sean Haefeli and grabbing his (protected) arm and hand, pulling him forward until Ares heard the command to stop and was pulled aside by Poeschel.
Whether to use the dog to subdue a suspect is as much of a decision as any other made by police officers. JPD Sgt. Scott Cleveland, the department’s defense tactics instructor, said Jacksonville officers follow a five-level use-of-force policy that reflects the behavior of the person to be arrested, from compliance to the threat of serious bodily harm or death.
“It’s a split-second decision,” Cleveland said about deciding when to use force and how much. “Just about anything can be used as a weapon [against an officer], but we have to be justified [in how to respond].”
To help make his point, he shared videos of incidents in Detroit; Akron, Ohio; Fort Worth, Texas; and Las Vegas taken from body cams, security cameras and bystanders. Class members then picked apart details from those videos to determine whether actions were justified.
JPD Officer Katy Bettis added, however, that anyone watching such videos needs to remember that 90% of the videos you see don’t show the start of an incident.
“We try really hard to train our officers,” said JPD Lt. Mark Lonergan, “but then all you hear are the failures and then everybody kind of projects [that] onto us and it builds mistrust between our communities and ourselves.”
Next week: A visit to the range