The Morris County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Section is hosting a critical, three-day class for its Officers and K-9 Officers around the state that focuses on the readiness of Officers and their canine partners in high-stress, high-risk street encounters.
The seminar – which combines rigorous hands-on field work with classroom instruction – is presented by Girard “Jerry” Bradshaw, CEO and training director of Tarheel Canine Training Inc. in Sanford, North Carolina.
On the seminar’s first day this week, participants received reams of practical advice from Director Bradshaw on traits to consider when selecting dogs for use in K-9 units, and on vigorously preparing dogs for successful deployment in high-risk situations.
“You need dogs with intensity and horsepower,” Director Bradshaw said. “You want to pick a dog that can handle the work, not necessarily one the handler will like.”
He remarked that some of the best dogs are rejected for K-9 training because they are older or battered, with an ear or tail missing, but said they are sometimes the best choice because of experience and intensity during apprehensions.
Morris County Sheriff’s Officers – along with Officers from Hillsborough, the Passaic and Union County Sheriff’s Offices, New Jersey State Police, State Corrections Special Operations Group, and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office – are taking the class. The Morris County Sheriff’s Officers include Detective Lieutenant Aaron Tomasini, Detective Corporal Michael McMahon, Detectives Mike Carbone, Marc Adamsky, John Granato and Dave Marshall, and Officer Frank Perez.
After time in the classroom at the Morris County Public Safety Academy, the instructor sent hours observing and correcting Officers on K-9 obedience and on suspect apprehension tactics. The Morris County K-9 Academy grounds were used for hands-on training, along with a multi-storied building on the Public Safety Academy grounds that is used for fire and tactical classes.
Director Bradshaw used his knowledge of failed deployments of canines as teaching tools and urged robust training of dogs with decoys – Officers posing as perpetrators – so the canines physically experience in training what they may encounter in real life with a suspect who tries to fight back the dog.
He also stressed the importance of dogs learning to be “neutral” and focused when back-up Officers are present so that they do not mistake an Officer for a perpetrator. And, he said, dogs must be comfortable and focused among large groups of people so that commands from handlers are clearly obeyed.
The first day of training involved Officers, outfitted in protective “bite” suits, serving as decoys, or mock suspects, who were apprehended by the dogs because they refused to come out of hiding or yield to police. In one scenario to correct dogs from being distracted, Detective Granato held a large stuffed pony in front of himself as a barrier the dog was supposed to disregard in its apprehension goal.
The Morris County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Section, overseen by Detective Lieutenant Tomasini, is recognized as a premier unit, with 11 dogs handled by seven detectives currently in the section. Some of the dogs have successfully apprehended suspects – who are given warnings to stop or come out of hiding in advance of a canine being deployed – while some dogs in the unit are certified in patrol, but still gaining experience.
Detective Corporal Michael McMahon said that sometimes the mere presence of a police dog at a tumultuous scene is enough to calm emotions.
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon stopped by the class to emphasize the need for skilled K-9 teams and their importance in assisting local police departments. Morris County Sheriff’s Office K-9 detectives, he said, respond to about 1,000 calls a year, many in the middle of the night.
The Sheriff also expressed his pride in his K-9 Section.
“The K-9 Unit in the Morris County Sheriff’s Office? It’s second to none, and I mean no disrespect to any other offices when I say that,” he said.
A lighter moment in the training came when some dogs twisted and averted their heads as their handlers tried to put muzzles on their faces. The dogs may wear muzzles during training to protect decoys from bites. Director Bradshaw recommended handlers practice slipping the muzzle onto the dog’s face every chance they get and even letting the dogs eat out of the muzzle so they grow to enjoy it.