© by R.S. Eden

On a cold winters night early last year I was on routine patrol and observed a car leave from the rear of a commercial property shortly after midnight. It was obvious they were in a hurry. I pulled into the rear of the property and noted that it had been burglarized. I immediately pulled out onto the roadway in pursuit of the vehicle. A short pursuit ensued and as we neared a dead end area, the suspect vehicle slowed momentarily and two suspects jumped out of the moving vehicle, fleeing into a residential area. I kept following the vehicle as it continued another 3 blocks into a dead end and arrested the driver. Burglary tools were found in the car and there was sufficient grounds to pursue the two suspects that had bailed out.

We were short on cars that night and we had one suspect in custody so when I returned to deploy my dog, it was not unusual to find myself alone working the track without a backup and with no containment cars around to assist me. As I started to track, I was sure the two suspects would not go far and that I would have little difficulty in locating them. Initially one officer did his best to do some perimeter containment once I got a direction of travel, however time had taken its toll, and we were starting almost fifteen minutes behind the suspects.

As the track progressed we went over many fences, and through many yards. Up and down a deep ravine, through a creek and along a railway line. As time progressed the track proceeded about 2 miles and crossed from my jurisdiction into the neighboring municipality. The dog was very intense on the track and as we progressed, more and more patrol units started to make themselves available to assist me with containment. The jurisdiction I was now tracking through provided cars and our own patrol members were now available to set up in quadrants. It was at this point that Cpl. Rick Franson came across the radio about 2 blocks from my location stating that a suspect was fleeing from him. A foot pursuit ensued from that location with the suspect running from one point to another point, only to keep running into containment units and turning back. As I closed in to assist the suspect ran out of a yard and was tackled by an R.C.M.P. officer who had come to assist with containment. The track had extended for over 5 miles, and we had crossed over some 15 fences. The third suspect was never apprehended.

In this case, I could easily have tracked all night without ever catching up to the suspects. With the lead time they had, and the time it takes the dog to work the track at his pace as well as the time involved in getting the dog and handler over various obstacles, all the suspects had to do to evade capture was to keep moving at a steady pace. Not necessarily a fast pace, just a steady pace. It was the containment team that picked this suspect up, combined with the efforts of the K9 team, this incident had a very successful conclusion. But that conclusion only came after a dedicated effort at containment by patrol members. Without the patrol officers doing their job I could likely have never caught up to the suspects. Had we had proper containment available initially we very likely could have reduced the length of the track substantially and possibly been successful in apprehending the third suspect.

There is a saying common to dog handlers that states:

” A K9 team is only as good as its last call.”

Due to the nature of the job, with so many variables, it goes without saying that not every application of a dog to search for a suspect will be successful. If the team is effective and apprehends a fugitive, then they are the best team out there…until the next time they go into a situation that seems like a straight forward application and the dog doesn’t seem to be able to locate any track. Patrol officers frequently question why a dog is unable to locate a suspect when the trail seems to be hot and often seem frustrated when the dog comes up with negative results.

There are many and varied reasons for unsuccessful applications, and many of those reasons are a direct result of a lack of under- standing by the patrol team of the capabilities of the dog, and what the dog team needs as a foundation for a successful applica- tion.

The deployment of the K9 unit is a team effort between the K9 team and patrol officers, with a large responsibility for the success resting on the shoulders of the patrol team. Containment and scene preservation by patrol officers can dramatically in- crease the opportunity for a successful K9 application. Various procedures can be implemented to make your teams more effective.

1. Scene Preservation – If you are the first officer at a crime scene, preserve the scene as you found it. If you drive up on a burglary that has just occurred and you are sure the suspects have fled the scene, do not approach the site. Stay in your vehicle and request K9 attendance. This will maintain the scene with only the offenders human scent for the dog to work on. Many times I have gone to a crime scene, directed my dog to track, only to track to an officer who has walked over to the crime scene and then around to the back of the building to check the perimeter. The dog will usually work on the freshest odor laid if both the suspects odor and officers odor are at the same location, therefore you must ensure that you keep the area as free from contamination as possible.

2. Contain The Perimeter – One of the most frustrating aspects of working a dog is going to a crime scene and seeing 3 or 4 patrol units parked around the area. Every one of those cars has increased the potential for odor loss as they have either driven over the track left by the fleeing suspects or the officers have exited their vehicles and walked around the area immediate to the crime scene. The dog has no idea which odor is the good guy, and which is the bad guy and this frustrates the K9 teams attempts to locate a flight path. Instead of these cars attending the crime scene, they are more effectively deployed on perimeter containment Perimeter containment, if set up in quadrants around the crime scene in an effective manner is your best tool for success. The perimeter containment should be set up even before the primary officer attends the crime scene if you have a crime in progress call. This will ensure that you have boxed the suspects in a specific area. Once contained, then the primary and backup unit can attend the scene itself.

When doing perimeter containment remember that your purpose is to force the suspects to “go to ground”, making them hide to avoid detection. To that end, maintain a high visibility. Take up an intersection location where you can observe in two or three different directions at the same time. Illuminate as much of the area as you can. Turn on all your overhead emergency lights and make it well known that you are there. A suspect that is coming into your area will often see the emergency lights and spotlights and instead of breaking out in the open to cross the street, will choose to hide in the hopes of not being seen. This allows your dog team the best opportunity for a capture.

The distance you set up your containment from the crime scene will vary depending on time delay. A general guideline is to establish a perimeter of 2 blocks for every minute of time delay from the time of the occurrence. Suspects can cover an amazing distance in a relatively short period of time. It is better to set up your perimeter larger than required than to set one that is too small.

3. Control Vehicle And Pedestrian Traffic – Not only does vehicular traffic interfere with the dogs ability to track a suspect, but it also is the greatest danger to police dogs. More police dogs are injured and killed each year by cars than by felonious assault. It is your job as a containment officer to keep this risk to a minimum when possible. Prevent unnecessary vehicle traffic as well as pedestrian traffic that may confuse the situation should they come into the proximity of the dog team.

4. Persevere – Don’t be in a rush to leave the area if you do not get immediate results from your dog team. The longer the suspect is forced to hide, the more scent that he will emanate in his immediate vincinity. This will enhance the chances of the dog picking up the scent and makes the suspect easier to find. If you are considering breaking off from your containment point, check with your dog handler first to see if it is alright to break off. Most efficient handlers will advise containment units when he feels there is no further need for a perimeter.

The key to successful K9 applications rests on proper containment and scene preservation. Success is frequently much better when patrol teams realize that the application of the dog is not just done by the dog handler, but is a team effort that is only suc- cessful when there is full support from the patrol officers on the shift. The dog team is only half the equation.

Note: More advanced information on this subject during sessions instructed at the International Police K9 Conferences held annually in various locations throughout North America.