Flying colors . . .


Photo courtesy of the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Dept.

Washtenaw County Deputy Rick Houk and his Police Service Dog “Argo” apprehend a suspect – aka Lt. Kurt Schiappacasse – during April 9 K9 Unit Training Simulation testing west of Ann Arbor. Three K9 teams took part and all passed the tests.

Three Sheriff’s Dept. K9 teams pass required testing

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

It’s not only police officers that stay fit – their K9 partners are also put through their physical fitness paces twice a year, in K9 Unit Training Simulations.

“This testing is a Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office requirement to ensure teams are in top physical condition and able to respond to all manner of incidents in which their specialized talents are needed,” explains Lt. Michael Marocco. “Numerous suspects in both property crimes and crimes against persons have been identified and arrested solely because of the dog’s presence and abilities.

“The course is changed each time and held in different areas of Washtenaw County, so it’s unknown to participants.”

The latest four-hour testing, that included scent work, tracking, bite work and agility, was held April 9 on private property in Lodi Township, with snow on the ground.

The three “multipurpose” Police Service Dogs are all trained in tracking, criminal apprehension and drug detection: Fred, a Belgian Malinois works with his handler, Deputy Sean Urban; Karn, a German shepherd, with handler Corporal Gerrod Visel,; and Argo, a Belgian Malinois/German shepherd mix with Deputy Rick Houk.

Each team’s simulation started with the handler placing his K9 partner in the down position with a muzzle on; the dog was required to continue lying down while the handler did one minute each of consecutive maximum push ups, sit ups and squats. 

The handler then carried his K9 partner on his shoulders – something that might be necessary if there were glass or debris on the ground – through two smoke and distraction devices and simulated gunfire for 50 yards, after which the dog was put on the ground and un-muzzled. 

The pair then moved as if tracking/trailing a suspect for about 1.5 miles, over a trail with a variety of surfaces – wooded, grass, marsh, pavement, hills, flat, and dirt. 

At the end of the course, a “suspect” – Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office Lt. Kurt Schiappacasse – came out of the wooded area aggressively. The handler released the K9 and commanded it to engage the suspect, biting a thick sleeve on the suspect’s arm, while the handler scaled a 4-foot wall, controlling the K9 by voice.  The handler then took physical control of the K9 and had it disengage from the suspect. 

“All teams passed the exercise,” Marocco says, adding that the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office has had K9 teams for over 50 years; the first team was deployed in 1965.

The teams also are certified by the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA) twice a year, and by the National Association of Professional Canine Handlers (NAPCH) every two years.

“Each has standards that our teams are required to meet for certification,” Marocco says.


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