SDPD Special Response Canines Help With SWAT Missions

Police dogs are a use-of-force option, and are sent in to locate and control violent suspects.

The San Diego Police Department now has a coordinated K-9 response for SWAT missions.

The Special Response Canines are on-call for the department's SWAT unit 24 hours a day as an additional resource, as SWAT standoffs are of high-risk.

Generally, the biggest dangers are what police cannot see, like if a barricaded suspect has weapons.

The SWAT unit also deploys robots mounted with cameras that can search rooms at call outs.

Now, SDPD has another advantage, K-9's trained to fit the needs of SWAT officers.

The dogs reduce the unknown for responding officers. Additionally, most of the Special Response Canines are partnered with handlers who formerly served on SWAT.

"Maybe we have a closet that we haven't been able to clear. The canine can go up to that closet and the canine handler can watch that dog work on the monitors of the robot and the canine handler can make the decision on whether the dog alerted or not," explained SDPD SWAT Sgt. Mark Willhelm.

The canines' development is led by SDPD K-9 Sgt. Casey Gini, a former SWAT officer and K-9 handler.

"They leave our academy at a relatively high level, but then the goal is through the career of the dog to continue to increase that level of obedience, that level of control, and that bond with handler," Gini said.

K-9 officers said the biggest misconception of their dogs is that they're somehow vicious. Handlers said the dogs are simply highly trained animals who bite on command.

Police dogs are a use-of-force option, and are sent in to locate and control violent suspects. But unlike weapons, canines are the one option that once engaged, can be pulled back.

"We send our dog in, while the dog is running towards the suspect, he decides to give up, we can recall the dog," explained Gini.

And with a sense of smell recognized by the Department of Homeland Security to be a million times more sensitive than humans, K-9's have become an integral force within the department.

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