The Canine Unit is part of the Altus Police Department’s Traffic Division. The Canine Unit has two narcotics detector dogs, with the main function of supporting the other officers.
K-9 Officer Don Wood and eight-year-old female “Sami” have been partners since July 2010. K-9 Officer Jerry Downen and five-year-old male “Cesar” are two-year partners. Both dogs are German Shepherds and are classified as Narcotic Detector Dogs. They are trained to detect marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy. (In the canine world there are also explosive detector dogs, and rescue dogs.)
“Sami” was purchased from Canine Unlimited of Tulsa at the age of two. Officer Wood chose her and then went through two weeks of training with her. Sgt. Wood’s “Cesar ” was free from Universal Canine in San Antonio, Texas, which is a privately based organization made up of rescue and shelter dogs. Cesar was brought here from oversees. The State of Oklahoma certifies all canine dogs, and handlers must re-certify every year.
Officers take full responsibility of the health and welfare of their dogs. Each dog lives with their partner.
The dogs and officers are teamed up and the bonding and training starts. The two-week training teaches structure, mannerisms, working techniques and safety. K-9 Officer Jerry Downen said they try to fit in 16 more hours monthly to their training.
Officers make routine traffic stops, and assist other officers. Assistance is also given to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and surrounding law enforcement agencies. A traffic stop allows an officer to perform a “canine sniff of the area” which is not a search. It is a “sniff of the exterior of the vehicle.” If a dog alerts, or an officer for any reason suspects drug activity, they can then enter the vehicle to search for narcotics.
Sgt. Wood and Officer Downen agreed that the canines are a huge benefit to the Altus Police Department because it is an additional tool for vehicle searches, assists in finding lost children and alzheimer patients.
Both officers are asked frequently their feelings about working with the dogs. “Our answer is easy, yes we love our jobs or we wouldn’t be doing it.”
Sami and Cesar show their love for the job when their partners are in uniform. Both dogs spin circles and rush to exit the door ready to get to work.
Reach Mary O. Esparza at 580-482-1221 ext 2077