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RBC — Both the Meeker Police Department and the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office now have canine units in service that received training at the prestigious Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, Ind.
Officer Jim Amick with the Meeker Police Department is the handler for Gino, a 5½ year-old Belgian malinois, who served with the Westminster Police Department for three years prior to coming to Meeker. Gino is a social narcotics canine.
During Gino’s first months of service, he has had 20 deployments, 13 alerts and six narcotics finds. Gino replaces Aragon, a 3 year-old German shepherd, who was retired from duty earlier this year after developing epileptic seizures. Aragon takes seizure medication for his condition and will spend his retirement years with Amick and his family.
Deputy Clay Caldwell with the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office is the handler for Rio, a 2-year-old German shepherd whose first day of service began June 7. Rio replaces Rudy, a Belgian malinois who retired at the beginning of 2008 due to health reasons. Rudy will spend his retirement years with his handler, Sergeant Roy Kinney, in Rangely.
Deputy Caldwell and Rio spent five weeks training together at the Vohne Liche Kennels from the end of April through May 2008. During the first week of training, the new partners got acquainted and began working on obedience, narcotics, detections, searches and tracking. Night detections and officer protection began during the second week of training. Suspect apprehension, additional officer protection, tracking and search training rounded out the third week of training. Week four consisted of patrol work and additional narcotics work. Deputy Caldwell and Rio worked on vehicle extractions, area searches that included industrial and wooded settings, live fire scenarios as well as final exams during the fifth and final week of training. Live fire scenarios train the canine to continue forward toward the suspect during gunfire.
The Vohne Liche Kennels were chosen because of its reputation for training social police dogs. A social police dog is not aggressive towards people or other animals unless instructed to do so. Therefore, both Gino and Rio can be utilized in both criminal interdiction as well as community work as evidenced by the demonstrations and exemplary interaction at the Meeker Chamber of Commerce’s Bark in the Park fundraising event June 7.
Handlers work with and continue training the dogs even when off duty to keep the dog’s skills sharp. Varying the times of day and the weather conditions for these trainings simulates “on-duty” scenarios. During a recent training in Grand Junction, Rio was certified in tracking, narcotics, patrol and officer protection by the Colorado Police Canine Association. Gino, a narcotics dog, was certified in narcotics during the same training in Grand Junction. Gino and Rio were both certified in narcotics by the National Police Canine Association during the Grand Junction training.
Rio is the first patrol dog working for the sheriff’s office since Sheriff Woodruff took office. A full service patrol dog is trained in officer protection, narcotics, evidence location and suspect apprehension. Deputy Caldwell and Rio are partners and will not be separated with few exceptions, such as court.
According to Undersheriff Michael Joos, Rio will be a “great tool and a great asset for the sheriff’s office.” Depending on the situation, Rio may be used in search and rescue this summer. Joos also pointed out that a police dog is a less than lethal option in suspect apprehension and control for situations when deadly force is not warranted. The sheriff’s office would like to bring Rio into the schools for demonstrations if the schools are interested. Deputy Caldwell and Rio will be working toward national certifications in all areas for the full service patrol dog this summer. The national certifications in September are more stringent than the state level certifications, allowing zero errors during the certification.
Even though Gino and Rio are furry and four-legged, they are law enforcement officers. Under Colorado statute, assault on a police canine carries the same criminal penalties as assault on a police officer.