K-9s: A Large Part of Local Law Enforcement

Keavy, a K-9 member of the Farmersville Police Department, stands frozen once she finds the drugs she is asked to locate. She is released by a click from her handler and then given her toy for some play time. Nancy Vigran/Valley Voice

There may be nothing more ideal than going to work every day and loving your job. For Keavy, she has just that–her job being in narcotics enforcement with the Farmersville Police Department. For her partner, Officer Ashley Hettick, it is almost as enjoyable.

Keavy is a Springer Spaniel–together with Officer Hettick, they make up one of Farmersville’s three K-9 teams. Keavy was born in England and along with her littermate, Faith, was imported to the US as a puppy, later becoming part of a training program directed by Farmersville Lieutenant Jay Brock. Brock has been a K-9 handler for much of his 28 years in law enforcement, receiving his first K-9 partner in 1994. After his promotion to lieutenant in 2013, he had to give up his handling duties in the department. He continues to oversee the Farmersville K-9 teams and remains active, when off duty, in his sideline of training. He owns his own business, Top Dog Training Center.

Keavy and Faith were acquired with the intent of becoming involved in local law enforcement – Keavy for the City of Farmerville, Faith for the Tulare County Sheriff Department. Brock trains a lot of teams for local law enforcement agencies outside of Farmersville, including both the Tulare County and Kings County Sheriff Departments and several police departments including Porterville, Lindsay, Exeter, Dinuba, Selma and Reedley.

Through the years more breeds of dogs, aside from the more traditional German Shepherds and Belgian Malanois, have become active as police dogs including Spaniels and Pointers, Brock said. Some mixed breeds may also be utilized. Different dogs are trained for different purposes. The important traits for narcotic detection dogs are enthusiasm and drive, and the ability to do what is required of them. There is also a great benefit to a smaller size, such as Springer Spaniel, as they can easily move around in tighter spaces. In this environment, a dog that is non-threatening and not aggressive is more desirable, Brock said.

Farmersville’s Officer Hettick and Keavy

During training, Officer Ashley Hettick sends Keavy, her K-9 partner, to search for drugs. There are three obstacles set up, which vary in appearance during different trainings. When Keavy finds her target, she is rewarded with a toy or treat. Nancy Vigran/Valley Voice

Keavy fits the bill. She wiggles with excitement at her work, and has no interest in apprehending the people around her. Together with Officer Hettick, they have been trained in narcotics detection – the most common training for K-9s in law enforcement. Keavy has reward-based training.

“That obsessive behavior–that they [the dogs] really can’t think of much else once you set them in motion–is an advantage to us, because conditions and the environment can be distracting,” Lt. Brock said. “They work through most of that–they want to hunt and eventually play with their toy.”

Officer Hettick and Keavy make regular trips to Farmersville High School and Junior High. They also participate in traffic stops and search warrants. During the 2015-16 school year, in operating just part of that year, the team made many drug finds in the schools. This past year, 2016-2017, not so much. Officer Hettick attributes that to the fact that there are just a lot less drugs in the schools.

“It’s supposed to be a deterrent,” Hettick said. “I would rather her [Keavy] not be successful there – that means they [the students] are not bringing it [drugs] to school.”

While most dogs are trained in narcotic detection, others also receive further training in firearm and ammunition detection, search and, sometimes, apprehension. This is where the more traditional dogs come in and Farmersville employs two Belgian Malinois, Gibby and Jace, who are dual trained.

Training for Dog and Handler

Farmersville Sergeant Troy Everett puts his partner, Gibby, through the paces at the recent Sierra K-9 Trials. Courtesy/Deputy Crain/Kings County Sheriff’s Department

With his training business, Lt. Brock said when he is in need of a dog, he now has some regular sources he will call upon around the country. Some of his sources will also let him know if they have found a dog with the traits he has found promising, should he have a need to fill. Like many of the larger training facilities, Brock does not keep dogs on hand. He prefers to train dogs along with their handlers, at the same time, tailoring them to their particular department’s needs. They are not young puppies, but rather dogs close to one year old and generally under two. He’s not necessarily looking for purebreds, and not particular bloodlines, but rather good health and ability.

Since departments invest a lot into their K-9 officers, they look to receive a minimum of five to six years of service, Brock said. A single purpose dog, like Keavy, costs upwards of $10,000 for purchase and training of dog and handler. Dual purpose dogs, like Gibby and Jace, have more time invested into training, with a cost of around $14,000.

Brock’s decision to go into the training business in 2003 was based, in part, on training local dogs in the environment in which they will work. Most training outfits are in the urban environment and the dogs do not see the work often played out in the agriculture communities and orchards, he said.

But, also, “we were having more and more difficulty being able to send people away for training because the classes are quite lengthy – usually a patrol class is about five weeks, and patrol and detection is about 10 weeks. So, that is a substantial amount of time away,” he said.

Added to that is travel time, lodging and meals.

“Dogs have the ability to save time,” Brock said. “They’re more efficient in their searching.

“The handler is the thinking part of the team. They understand the significance of the role and follow policy appropriately using a tool assigned to them. It’s hard because you’re sending an animal into a situation and things may make a right turn and change drastically.”

Every team faces retesting annually.

Don’t Clock Out at 5

For the handler, the work becomes a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job.

“You don’t just shut the door at five o’clock when it’s time to go home and come back the next day,” Brock said. “You’re going to have to take the dog home and care for it.”

Proper kenneling must be provided – the K-9 officer is not a family dog. Incentive pay is generally offered to handlers for their extra time and responsibility, he said.

“It’s quite a bit of extra duty and responsibility – taking care of them, all of the time,” he added.

In Keavy’s case there is another dog in the household. While she is allowed to associate with the family dog, visitations are brief. Officer Hettick takes Keavy out for work every day, whether it is technically a work day or not. Training is an ongoing effort, and for Keavy work time is often play time. When she finds what she seeks, or is done searching an area, she is rewarded with high praise and one of her favorite toys, or a treat.

Officially, Farmersville’s K-9s and handlers train two hours per week on top of their regular work schedule. They also participate in eight hours of training per month alongside K-9s and handlers from other local agencies, in other areas of the county – sometimes in town; sometimes in an agricultural or rural setting.

K-9 Trial Participation

Recently, Hettick and Keavy participated in the annual Sierra K-9 Trials, along with Sergeant Troy Everett and Gibby, and Officer Darrell Locke and Jace.

Farmersville Police Officer Darrell Locke works with his partner, Jace, during one of the
department’s two-hour weekly sessions. Courtesy/Heath Locke

The Farmersville department did well, walking away with seven trophies. Hettick and Keavy earned two of those with a third in narcotic vehicle search and a third in narcotic building search, from a field of approximately 20 teams.

Locke and Jace took first in agility, as well as first overall in the novice category.

Lt. Brock also has a lot of experience participating in trials. In fact, he and his K-9 partner won overall in the Police and Fire World Games held in Indianapolis some years ago.

Trials are an extension to training, Brock said. “They may motivate you to work harder or train harder, if you feel you are deficient in some area. Essentially, the trials are nothing more than a test and you’re trying to see if you can get them [the dogs] to perform as you want them to. It’s an extension of training.”

For Officer Hettick, her job is a dream come true. She wanted to work with a K-9 partner when she started her career, and she also wanted to work in narcotics.

“Keeping drugs off the streets – it’s kind of a never-ending thing,” Officer Hettick said. “Having Keavy as a K-9 partner, is kind of cool.”

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