New team members are joining the Victoria Police Department following a recruitment process that reached out all the way to Germany to find perfect candidates.
The three new officers are, in fact, recruits for the force’s K-9 corps.
“We have three new German shepherds that we’ve just received through a broker in Sacramento with contacts to the breeding facilities in Germany,” explained Const. Eric Lequesne, one of the K9 Unit dog handlers. “These are dogs with bloodlines that go back to generations of working dogs; the best dogs available anywhere.”
The dogs are exhaustively vetted, first in Europe and then upon their arrival in Canada.
“We look at whether they are environmentally suited for the job, and are capable of handling things like slick floors and metal stairways,” Lequesne said. “We also check on their drive to work (some dogs, believe it or not, are lazy), and whether they are sociable enough for the job.
The human members of the pairings are similarly screened in an application process that looks at the officers’ physical fitness, their qualifications, service history and experience with animals.
“We make sure we select officers that can be matched to the temperament and energy of the dogs who will become their constant companions and working partners. The dogs will live with that officer, so it’s important that the officer’s living situation allows for that sort of arrangement,” Lequesne said.
The new dogs, like their fellow canine officers already on the force, will undergo a rigorous course of training to qualify them for tasks that range from finding evidence, detecting drugs or firearms, searching crime scenes for suspects, and apprehending those suspects on command.
They will join the four German shepherds and three chocolate Labradors already in the K9 Unit, a complement that allows for a dog to be available for duty every evening and most days.
The unit’s Labs are generally used for the detection of drugs and explosives, while the German shepherds are more general duty dogs used for searches and the apprehension of criminals.
Sgt. Mike Chicorelli, the K9 Unit’s principle trainer, described how the dogs are prepared to go to work.
“The techniques have really gotten so much better since we got our first dog in 1984. There are a variety of techniques, but basically the dogs are trained to perform a specific job, and when they do it right, the reward they are given involves playing with a tug rope or ball. For them, it’s just a lot of fun,” he said.
Of course, the job has its serious side as well. In 2013 a police dog named Quanto, with more than 100 arrests to his credit, was killed in the line of duty in Edmonton. His death prompted the enactment of “Quanto’s Law (Justice for Animals in Service Act) that now imposes severe jail terms for killing or otherwise harming a police, military or service animal.
“There is obviously a risk involved, but our equipment has gotten better as well. The dogs are now outfitted with tracking harnesses and slash and stab proof vests, complete with Kevlar panels to protect them in close encounters with criminals,” explained Lequesne.
“Working with the K9 Unit is the best job in the world. It’s not often that you get to go home each night with your best friend and partner. There’s a special bond that develops, that’s certain.”