Georgia’s Cobb County has a lot going for it. Its 700,000 residents comprise what is reputedly the most educated populace of any county in the state. It has an excellent park system. Cobb also boasts the Silver Comet Trail, a paved walking/bicycling path that meanders from Smyrna all the way to the Alabama border. Smyrna, of course, has GLOCK’s U.S. headquarters. The county has a modern, state-of-the-art Public Safety Department that features two of the best friends a cop could have—highly trained police dogs and trusty GLOCK semi-automatic sidearms.
The approximately 650-person Cobb County Police Department (CCPD) includes five Police K9s and their officer/handlers. These partners in crime prevention allow Cobb to effectively deal with the myriad of public safety issues affecting the west side of sprawling, metropolitan Atlanta.
The K9s are dual-purpose Belgian Malinois police dogs, which to the untrained eye look very much like German Shepherds. The dogs are dual-purpose in that they both search and patrol (track). Four of the dogs are trained to search for narcotics (cocaine, marijuana, crystal meth and heroin), while the other is trained for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), sniffing out any of 13 basic explosives odors, and all track.
They not only locate suspects by scent but can, at their handler’s command, subdue the suspect until he can be taken into custody. And should a suspect attempt to grapple with the handler, it’s pick-your-poison time. He can either wind up facing the fangs of a very protective K9, staring down the barrel of a GLOCK or, very likely, both.
A Dog’s Life
Officer K.C. Robinson is a 15-year veteran of CCPD, the last five and a half with the K9 Unit. Sergeant Danny Parrott is a 23-year CCPD veteran, the last two spent supervising the K9 and Tactical Units. Together, they explain that, although the dogs come from various kennels in Florida, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Georgia, most of the dogs are of European origin and get their basic training before arriving on these shores. For that reason, officers have to learn commands in the native language of each dog’s nation of origin. That’s right, some Cobb K9s are addressed in German, others in Czech or Dutch.
Each dog is assigned to a handler 24/7. They will spend the rest of the dog’s life together. If you are chosen as a handler—more officers apply than there are slots available—Cobb County builds a kennel in your backyard and all dog food is ordered through the county veterinarian. “All handlers are compensated one hour per day of your pay rate for home care,” says Robinson. “That’s in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act guidelines,” adds Parrott.
The dogs bond with the handler and the handler’s family. They will stay in service until pain or inability to perform force them into a well-earned retirement, usually at nine or 10 years of age. Until that time, the dog spends his days training, working and training some more.
Man’s Other Best Friend
Robinson’s partner is Chip, a six-year-old Malinois. Parrott, as a double-duty supervisor, doesn’t have a dog, though he oversees the unit. Like all Cobb officers, both men carry the GLOCK 22 in .40 with which they qualify twice a year (plus participating in a tactical day with various shooting scenarios). The pistols are loaded with 16 rounds of Winchester 180-grain JHPs, and officers carry two additional magazines for a total of 46 rounds. Further, each officer carries a subcompact GLOCK 27 as a back-up. Off-duty officers, who are strongly encouraged to carry, may opt for either gun or both.
Parrott says that he is pleased with the GLOCK, as is Robinson. Its virtues are well documented: light weight, ease of maintenance, a simple manual of arms and astonishing reliability. What Parrott notes, though, is a lack of complaint about the service pistol. While that may seem like faint praise, it is not. Anyone who has ever been in a supervisory role over a large and disparate group of intelligent but strong-willed people knows that an absence of complaints is rare regarding anything. For something as personal and vital as a sidearm, it’s almost unheard of.
While the lack of opposable thumbs may rule out a sidearm for Cobb PD’s dogs, each has plenty of other equipment. “We carry a full array of gear for the dog,” explains Robinson. “Tracking harness, muzzle, leashes of various lengths, a bite sleeve, cooler full of ice water, a spill-proof dish, first-aid and trauma kits geared toward K9 injury … .”
Honed to a Keen Edge
Dogs and handlers train daily on scent discovery, the dogs having to locate hidden stashes of drugs or EOD in buildings and/or vehicles. Aggression control, bite work and tracking practice are conducted weekly in large, park-like settings.
I was able to observe some of these training sessions. One involved Robinson and Chip and a fellow CCPD handler/dog team of Officer Mark Blakeney and Diesel. They were joined on this day by a Georgia Department of Natural Resources officer and his dog.
One exercise involved an officer going into the woods and crawling into a steel cage. The handler would then dispatch his dog into the woods to locate the “suspect,” who would try to unnerve the dog with a cap gun. These dogs are maintained at a physical peak and their energy and exuberance are boundless. The occasional mistake was only in overrunning the target.
Diesel is a young, fairly new dog and to test his discipline during the exercise, Robinson detonates a flash-bang behind him. Diesel swivels his head and stares in alarm (as did I), but never moves until commanded to.
The other drills involve the dogs taking on a cap gun-armed officer wearing a bite sleeve or full padded suit. These are enjoyable exercises but not fun-and-games. Various “monkey wrenches” are thrown in to see how the dogs will respond. A handler may send the dog, then change his mind and recall him. The dog, wound like a spring and released, must somehow find the discipline to stop and not initiate an attack. I’m not sure I could have done it, but the dogs stopped every time.
The officer in the suit or bite sleeve doesn’t necessarily go quietly, either. To do so wouldn’t be realistic training. One officer waits for the dog to clamp onto his arm, then swings it back and forth, testing its tenacity. Another is adept at sidestepping and pivoting as a dog launches into the air, pirouetting like a bullfighter as the dog goes sailing by. The dog lands, gathers itself and makes a more controlled, effective attack on the second pass.
The handler then eases the dog off of the suspect, teaching it to disengage as he takes control of the perpetrator. The suspect sometimes suddenly resists and the dog re-engages to protect his handler.
Though, as with most law enforcement sidearms, the need to use it is blessedly rare, a no-nonsense pistol is particularly important to a dog handler. With one hand controlling the leash, he is unable to operate a long gun. In fact, Robinson explains, two human officers always participate in every track of a suspect because the dog handler is focused on the dog and not his surroundings. The second officer covers the dog handler.
This arrangement proved its worth in the late 90’s when a CCPD handler on a track with a SWAT officer had a suspect pull a gun on them. While both the handler and the SWAT officer saw the weapon, it was the SWAT officer who was able to draw and fire his GLOCK, saving the life of the handler.
Robinson was involved in the 2006 shooting of an armed and barricaded suspect in a backyard. Less-lethal munitions had been tried unsuccessfully when the suspect raised his weapon at a SWAT officer. Robinson and other officers opened fire with positive effect. Robinson’s dog, during the ordeal, did exactly what he was trained to do. “My dog performed flawlessly; stayed in the ‘down’ position awaiting command,” says Robinson. “He’d been trained with gunfire, but not that much gunfire.”
During an evening ride-along with Parrott, responding to calls involving K9, we get to an apartment complex where several youths are reported to be fighting. Multiple detainees are questioned, with all denying the altercation. Four of the young men are dressed in red.
A van that was attempting to flee the scene when officers arrived is searched by Diesel, who finds a small quantity of marijuana. The officers also discover a badly dented aluminum bat. The driver of the vehicle explains that neither the drugs nor the bat are his. He claims, rather remarkably, that he was only stopping to pick up a friend when someone ran by and tossed the drugs and bat into his vehicle.
On another call, Diesel is called to search another vehicle. This time, VIPER (Violent Incident Prevention and Emergency Response) officers have a suspect in custody and have gotten him to flip on his alleged drug suppliers. He has called them and asked to meet. Two young men arrive for the meeting and are detained. The problem is that they seem to have taken the precaution of stashing the drugs somewhere nearby prior to arrival. Diesel conducts a search of the vehicle and no drugs are located. What is located is approximately $14,000 in cash in a shoebox. A nearby gas station and the route likely traveled by the pair are searched by Diesel and Blakeney, but no drugs are recovered.
Hitting Close To Home
A few days later, at another training session, Robinson describes a track that has taken place just a day or two before. It had occurred in the small town of Powder Springs. That got my attention. I live in Powder Springs. Robinson casually mentions the name of the subdivision. Is he joking? That’s my subdivision.
Apparently, the officers responded to a suspicious person call and found that someone had broken into a home just a few doors down from mine and taken several items of property. It was the fourth such break-in in the subdivision in a week.
A track was started, with Chip quickly picking up the scent. A handler has to learn to interpret the dog’s physical cues and Robinson could feel that Chip had a good track going. The pair, with another officer, follow the track through the woods but then come to the fence of Wal-Mart’s vast parking lot, which abuts the subdivision with hundreds of cars, maybe thousands of shoppers. The other officer remarks that they may be out of luck, but Robinson notes that Chip is still pulling hard.
Just then, the wind changes and Chip surges forward, the suspect’s smell strong in his nostrils. He leads Robinson and the other officer to the enclosed cart return area in front of the store, near the pay phone. The pressure Chip places on his leash intensifies as the officers move deeper into the cart return. They soon see why. There, between the rows of carts, squats the suspect, sipping from a bottle of water and trying to beat the heat—in more ways than one.
He is undone by the dog’s thousands of years of evolution, coupled with selective breeding and countless hours of training. Or perhaps, by his own lack of the same.
The missing property is on his person. He turns out to be from Florida where he was supposedly on close probation after aquiring a considerable rap sheet. He was staying with relatives who live in the subdivision and whose kindness he apparently repaid by robbing their neighbors. He is denied bail and the extradition process begins.
CCPD’s K9 Unit, with its training, equipment and high level of motivation, is one mission-capable team. The dogs’ expectations, from taking on violent felons to making nice with children, is demandingly far-ranging. Yet somehow the dogs and their handlers do their duty, day in and day out, with unrelenting operational excellence. And that level of performance is consistent with the pistol the handlers carry. The GLOCK meets any particular needs specialized units like K9 might have, yet also the general requirements of the department as a whole. It, like their K9 partners, is the handlers’ constant companion, one they can count on to serve and protect them as they serve and protect the rest of us.