Officer, retired K-9 dog, forge tight bond
By ANGIE HAFLICH
Despite having a tight bond, not many police officers desire to bring their partners home to live with them after they retire. But in Garden City Police Officer David Smith's case, that's exactly what he's doing.
"I made my desire known that when they retired him, I'd like to have him, and, of course, that it was mutually agreeable with my wife," Smith said.
Smith's partner, Arco, retired as a K-9 dog from the Garden City Police Department on Tuesday, after working alongside Smith, his fourth handler, since June 2012.
"My wife grew attached to him. She loves him. She was glad we were able to get him when he retired," Smith said. "And as a handler, you bond with the dog."
Arco, a Belgian Malinois, was with Smith 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so when off duty, he was already living at Smith and his wife Deanne's residence.
"He went home with me at night and came to work with me. K-9 officers are on call, and if a search warrant happens during our off hours and they need a K-9, they'll call us. If a patrol officer needs a K-9, they'll call it in. That's why we take the dog home with us, so we can respond directly from home to the area where the dog is needed, without having to go pick the dog up," Smith said.
Handling dogs didn't come naturally to Smith at first.
"I started working with the K-9 program before I was a handler, as a K-9 decoy, and that took a lot for me to get over because as a kid, I was bit in the leg by a German shepherd. So to actually stand out there and intentionally let the dog bite me was a fear I had to overcome," he said. "I got comfortable with it. I became familiar with what the K-9 did, what the handler did to a certain degree, and at that point, it became something I thought I'd like to do."
Smith has been with the GCPD since 2001 and has been a K-9 handler for the past three years. Arco was developing some eye issues in low light and darkness, so it was decided to retire him.
"Typically, the department looks at a dog's characteristics and health issues at about 8 years old, so he was getting pretty close to being looked at anyway," he said.
During his service, Arco was what Smith referred to as a dual-purpose dog.
"They're used in patrol work and narcotics. Arco was trained in four different kinds of narcotics: cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana," Smith said.
During his service at the GCPD, Arco aided in the seizure of $20,000 in narcotics and about $4,600 in drug money.
"Several of those involved a search warrant being conducted, and we went into a residence or a business and he was sent on a search of the residence or business and indicated on drugs. That also consists of sniffing vehicles where he indicated on drugs and drugs were found. They have a very, very keen sense of smell," Smith said.
In addition to his narcotics sensing skills, Arco's other purpose was patrol, helping with the tracking and apprehension of suspects, and clearing buildings prior to officers entering a potentially dangerous situation.
When K-9s track suspects, Smith said it isn't their sense of smell that aids them in locating a suspect.
"A lot of people think that the dog is tracking the odor of the suspect, but they're actually tracking ground disturbance," Smith said. "Arco and I have had several successful tracks. For instance, we had a track where an officer was conducting a traffic stop out near Walmart and a suspect got out of the vehicle near the grocery door, ran into Walmart and ran out the tire center and ran west over the bypass. We determined where he exited the store at, and I put my dog on a track and we tracked the suspect from the exit of the tire center, across the bypass, up the hill, past the apartments on Fair Street, to the east parking lot of the Best Value Inn."
Smith said a common misconception about K-9s is that they are out to severely injure or kill, but that isn't the case.
"A lot of people have a fear of the dog, that the dog is a killer. The dogs aren't killers. They're a tool that's used to effect your job as a police officer, and obviously, they increase officer safety," he said. "That's why we do presentations with the dog, to educate the public that a dog is not deadly force."
He said that K-9s are the same level of force as a baton or pepper spray.
Due to budget constraints, Arco isn't scheduled to be replaced until 2014. Smith said he would like to continue as a dog handler.
"It's a job that I would jump at to do again, if given the opportunity to handle another dog. I really love the K-9 program. I think it's a very vital tool to any police department, to any community, and it's a rewarding experience," he said.