Flying through the air, Tarzan swiftly took down a police officer posing as an assailant.
Tarzan, a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office K-9, was one of about a dozen police dogs that got to strut their stuff during a K-9 demonstration Tuesday evening, July 17, at the Prescott Rodeo grounds. Other K-9s sported names like Karma, Viper and Macho.
Hosted by the Arizona Law Enforcement Canine Association (ALECA), the free public demonstration was a part of the 26th annual ALECA Survival Seminar, which provides K-9 units from every law enforcement agency in Arizona with necessary training and required annual recertification testing. Since 2016, the seminar has been hosted at Yavapai College’s campus in Prescott. This year, about 80 police K-9 teams participated.
“We have everything from single-purpose narcotic dogs, explosive detection dogs and criminal apprehension dogs,” said Yavapai Tribal Police officer Dan Smith, one of the coordinators of the seminar.
Where these police dogs are stationed in Arizona depends on what each law enforcement agency needs them for.
The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO), for instance, uses their K-9s purely for interdiction (intercepting and preventing the movement of illegal substances).
“We assist in narcotics task force and then we initiate our own traffic stops on I-40, 17 or 93,” said Jarrod Winfrey, YCSO’s K-9 sergeant. “Just this month we had a 180-pound marijuana seizure on I-40, a six-pound seizure of marijuana with an armed felon and I arrested an 81-year-old guy and his girlfriend last week for methamphetamine.”
Smith, on the other hand, is in a unique position. He possesses the only bomb-detection dog in Northern Arizona. Named Recon, the dog served a tour in Afghanistan and was donated to the Yavapai Tribal Police less than a year ago.
“There’s about 25 other (bomb-dog) teams in the Valley area, but having that bomb dog up here allows for quicker response,” Smith said.
The most recent incident Smith and Recon handled was in June when there was a bomb threat to the Yavapai County Courthouse in downtown Prescott. Turns out, the threat was just a hoax.
“I went and cleared all four floors of the courthouse,” Smith said. “Every nook and cranny was checked by that dog. We felt it was safe and released it back to normal business.”
Just having a police dog on scene prevents tense situations from escalating, said former ALECA president Steve Lowe.
“It calms people down,” he said. “It always goes back to humans having an innate fear of being eaten by an animal.”
In most cases, however, police dogs are primarily used for their incredible sense of smell.
“What we try to tell everybody is the dogs are locater tools,” Lowe said. “That’s what they’re for. They’re to find bad guys; they’re to find narcotics; they’re to find explosives; they’re to find that missing kid that’s gone somewhere.”
Steve Warburton, a K9 officer with YCSO, recently received the Annual Congressional Law Enforcement Recognition Award from Congressman Gosar.
Warburton, 28, has worked with YCSO for almost six years. In that time, he’s handled two dogs, Vador and Viper.
He said the best part of having a dog as a partner is how all-encompassing the relationship is.
“You get to work with a dog 24/7, at home and at work,” he said.
It does come with its challenges, however; especially when the dog is only a year or two old – which is about the age law enforcement agencies will typically purchase their dogs.
“It’s like having a child,” Warburton said. “If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. You constantly have to stay on top of them and make sure they’re following the rules.”
But it always pays off, he said.
“I know everything about him and he knows everything about me,” Warburton said. “When at work, you have that extra sense of safety.”
Police dogs typically retire between 7 and 10 years old, Smith said. When they do, they usually go home with the handlers that spent the most time serving with them. In many cases, the adoption fee from law enforcement agency to handler is only $1.