Mike Parker: Kinston Police K-9 unit raising funds to replace K-9 officers

Mike Parker: Kinston Police K-9 unit raising funds to replace K-9 officers

Sgt Brandon Wells with retired K-9 Jessi. Click on the photo for our story on Sept. 2. Photo by Junious Smith III / Neuse News

Sgt Brandon Wells with retired K-9 Jessi. Click on the photo for our story on Sept. 2. Photo by Junious Smith III / Neuse News

On Sunday, Sept. 1, the Kinston Police Department started a special fundraiser to replace two dogs who have retired after years of service to our community. The K-9 Matching Gift Project is a fundraiser working with the National Association Chiefs of Police, and the Association will match donations dollar for dollar up to $5,000.

According to the Association’s website overview of the project, “police K-9s are law enforcement officers’ best non-lethal aid in the prevention and detection of crime. They [the K-9 officers] save time, money, and, more importantly, officers’ lives.”

Enter 15-year-old Jessi, a recently retired Belgian Malinois. Jessi served on the Kinston Police force from 2008-2018, according to KPD Sgt. Brandon Wells. Jessi helped remove millions of dollars in narcotics from Kinston’s streets, Wells said.

“What we’re trying to do is replace what we have,” Sgt. Wells explained. “We’re looking to replace two K-9s, so we have partnered with the National Association of Police Chiefs, and they are going to match fund we raise, up to $5,000.”

The first $5,000 raised by the KPD K-9 unit by the Sept. 30 deadline will become $10,000.

Every Saturday in September, members of the KPD have appeared between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at PetSense, located at 4130 W. Vernon Avenue. The appearances afforded KPD officers the opportunity to do a variety of demonstrations and to talk to citizens about what the K-9 unit is all about. Sgt. Wells said the department likes to keep four dogs at the police department so that each shift has its own K-9 officer.

The K-9 unit offers the police and community one more valuable tool in preventing and detecting criminal behavior. The greatest value of the canine team lies in the ability of the dog’s keen senses of sight, hearing, and smell to aid officers in searching for drugs and persons, and searching structures.

“Dogs improve efficiency because their keen noses help officers locate drugs, missing persons, suspects involved in crimes from misdemeanors to serious felonies. We use the K-9s to track children and Alzheimer patients.”

The K-9 officers also promote a positive public image of the Department’s expertise and efficiency. For those who cross the legal lines into criminal behavior, K-9 officers also serve as a deterrent and give police a psychological advantage.

K-9 officers and their handlers go through extensive training. Sgt. Wells is a K-9 trainer for the Kinston Police Department. To prepare himself for the position, he went through an intensive 12-week course at the Southern Police K-9 training facility in Spring Hope, NC. During this training course, Sgt. Wells learned methods of selecting, motivating, and preparing dogs to do police-specific tasks.

“Training a dog is like training a 3-year-old child,” Sgt. Wells said. “We use a reward system to harness the dog’s natural instincts to hunt, guard, defend, and protect. The K-9 trainees are rewarded for successful performance with a toy.”

Training a K-9 officer requires time. Sgt. Wells begins with a green, untrained canine between 12 to 16 months of age. Then he trains the canine for 20 weeks to hone the skills that an effective police dog needs. The officer assigned to handle the canine then goes through six weeks of training with the dog with special emphasis on harnessing the energy and skills of the dog for police work.

“We are looking for a canine that is motivated and has a high-drive personality,” Sgt. Wells said.

After the initial training period, the canine and handler spend a minimum of 16 hours a month in training. Sgt. Wells said the canine teams often train for 20 to 30 hours in a month. The K-9 officers and their handlers work to earn certifications in tracking, apprehension, detecting control substances, searching for articles such as clothing, and obedience.

Each year, the canines and handlers go through a certification process, and these certifications add to the credibility of the police work of the canine team in court. Independent evaluators access the dogs and their credibility.

So far, the Kinston Police K-9 unit has raised $2,500 of the $5,000 needed to earn the entire $5,000 match. The unit’s overall goal is to raise the $12,000 to $14,000 to purchase two dogs. The fundraiser will continue until the needed funds are raised. Even if the unit raises $5,000 by Sept. 30 and receives the $5,000 match, the unit will still need another $2.000 to $4,000 in fundraising to have the funds to replace both retired K-9 officers.

Go by the Kinston Police Department at 205 East King Street to make your donation. For through the end of September, whatever amount you give will be doubled. Be as generous as you can. If you miss the deadline, the KPD K-9 unit still needs your help. Mail a check to the Kinston Police Department, 205 E. King Street, Kinston, NC 28501. Make the check to the Kinston Police Department K-9 Unit.

Mike Parker is a columnist for Neuse News. You can reach him at mparker16@gmail.com .

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