Sumter Police Department officers gave a snapshot of the operations for its four-legged officers who use their noses to help solve crimes during a training session on Monday.
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The department’s K-9 unit is comprised of four K-9 teams — Lead Cpl. Cameron Bryant and K-9 Murphy, Officer 1st Class Michael Roberson and K-9 Riley, Cpl. Dustin Hilliard with K-9 Sammy and Officer 1st Class Joseph Kellahan with K-9 Ava — each consisting of a handler and a K-9, said Capt. Robert Singleton, patrol division manager for the department.
And each team is assigned to a patrol shift so there is 24-hour coverage at any time, he said.
“We’re required by policy to do 16 hours of training a month,” Singleton said. “Our K-9 unit exceeds that.”
This week, the K-9 unit’s training consisted of human tracking, item search and drug detection.
The dogs were taken to different areas of the city and tasked with finding items, some marked with human odor such as a skateboard wheel as well as illegal drugs.
For the drug detection, officers put illegal narcotics inside one of eight holes inside a wall, and the dogs had to indicate, or sit in front of, the correct hole. Another drug search involved the dogs finding narcotics that were placed on a vehicle.
“They don’t know they’re finding drugs,” Bryant said about the K-9s. “All they know is, ‘I smell this, I sit, I get my ball, daddy loves me, it’s a great day.’”
The training, which is never done, increases their drive to search, he said.
Kellahan said he joined the unit to help other officers in their operations such as traffic stops and locating missing people and suspects.
Kellahan started training for the K-9 unit in November after being with the police department for three years.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “It’s definitely different dealing with a dog.”
“It’s the ability to be involved in situations that most officers don’t get a chance to their entire careers,” Bryant said.
Singleton said another benefit of having K-9s at the department, especially working with the Labrador breed, is community engagement.
“It’s important that we have a dog that’s very social and obedient,” he said.
Not only are the handlers out looking for bad guys or missing people or trying to find drugs, he said, but they’re also in the schools.
“These dogs bridge the gap, often times, between the law enforcement officer and the children,” Singleton said.
“Our dogs can be petted,” he said. “They enjoy that social interaction.”
It allows law enforcement to be viewed in a positive light in the community, he said.
“We come to the schools, talk to the children, let them get an idea of what we do,” Kellahan said.
School visits also allow the children to get familiar with police K-9s so they won’t be afraid of them, he said.
Communicating with the students lets them know that officers are just normal people, he said. “When they see us, they know that we’re here to help.”
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