Valley K-9 officers help track suspects, sniff out drugs - KMSP-TV

Valley K-9 officers help track suspects, sniff out drugs

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) - There are 150 police dogs protecting the valley. They track suspects and sniff out illegal drugs.

These dogs do their part to keep the streets safe, they also bring skills to the police force that even the most advanced technology cannot replace.

To police officers, K-9's are more than man's best friend.

These dogs serve as guardians, sending a strong message to criminals.

"If you run, you're going to be found," said Goodyear Police officer Michael Miller.

Phoenix Police K-9 officer Kai found the suspect who shot officer Scott Sefranka and a volunteer posseman on New Year's eve last year. "Where that guy was hidden, we would have probably missed him," said Phoenix Police officer Tim Norton.

Officer Norton followed his partner Kai to the backyard of a home near 56th St & Thomas.

"He totally ignored three dogs that were coming after him, and the only thing he wanted to do was get to the back corner of this backyard to a point where I was holding him back, he was standing on his hind legs to go," said Norton.

Kai tracked down one of the two suspects in the shooting that were captured that day.

"Just before I gave him the command to jump the fence the suspect stood up and gave up, he said "I'm right here, I give up," said Norton.

The 6 year-old Belgian Malinois' resume gets even more impressive. By using his nose, he's helped seize more than 1 million in drug money and more than 2 million dollars in drugs.

Goodyear Police officer Michael Miller works with his partner Buka. They took down a dangerous suspect in a high-speed pursuit from May of 2013.

"The suspects are considered to be armed and dangerous at the time," said Lt. Jeff Rodgers.

Police say 7 year-old Buka tracked down burglary suspect Bobby Ortega after he burglarized at least 16 homes and fled from police, later crashing into a Phoenix home.

"He sniffed under the door and started barking, alerting me saying "hey dad, there's another bad guy just on the other side of this door", and as soon as the dog started barking he's like "Ok I give up, don't send that dog in here." He came out with his hands high and listened to all our commands," said Miller.

Officers found a gun in the room where the suspect had hidden it. Buka also does work for the U.S. Marshals and helped check ASU's campus when President Obama paid a visit.

"The drive for them is to please us, and find a bad guy. It's just unbelievable," said Mesa Police officer Bryan Cochran.

Officer Cochran said that his 9 year-old partner Max is more valuable than any technology available.

"All the infrared technology, spotlights, stuff in the helicopters, it's all great, and it's all useful tools, but there is nothing that replaces the nose and ability of a dog to be able to air scent and track human odor," said Cochran.

Max proved his tracking abilities when he was deployed to find drug dealers who sold their product to undercover cops and fled to hide in a new home subdivision near the Loop 202 and McKellips.

"In a situation like that they probably would have called the search off prior to us finding those guys," he said.

Over 40-50 officers and a helicopter crew in the sky couldn't find the men. One surrendered to K-9 units, and Max found the other hiding in a pile of insulation.

Goodyear Police sergeant Sean Clarke and his dog Duke have only worked together for 7 months, but earlier this year they tracked down 7 illegal immigrants who hid from police near Litchfield Road & Van Buren. Helicopter pilots who searched the area said the suspects were long gone.

"I can't tell you how many times that a helicopter tells us the area is clear and we end up using a dog who locates a suspect in the area, not to say the helicopters are bad but they have limitations just like we do," said Clarke.

Duke specializes in work on the SWAT team, and he is a new tool to help protect officers.

Duke is wearing brand new technology, a camera mounted on his back so that when he goes to work with the SWAT team they can see everything he is seeing using a monitor they wear on their wrists.

When the gear comes off, and the work is done, Duke cuddles up to Sgt. Clarke's two kids at home. All of these dogs give their partners comfort at home and in the field.

"He's the ultimate partner that you know would give the ultimate sacrifice for you or another officer," said Miller.

Most K-9 officers go into retirement after they reach the age of ten; the departments usually sell the dogs to their partners for $1.

Drug money seized by the K-9 units is deposited into a Rico fund. That money is used to buy and train new police dogs. Most of the dogs come from Europe and can cost up to $10,000 each.
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