The Pratt Police Department is starting a new K-9 unit.
When Pratt Police Cpl. Jon McCarley gets back from training at a Kansas Highway Patrol training facility in Topeka, he will have a new partner in the fight against drugs in Pratt.
McCarley’s partner and the newest member of the police department is a Dutch shepherd that will be used as a drug dog. So far, the dog doesn’t have a name but suggestions are being considered, said Gary Myers, Pratt Police Chief. The dog arrived in Pratt earlier this week.
McCarley, who already had some K-9 experience when he worked in Kiowa County, said he was chosen because he had expressed interest in the program. He is anxious to have more tools available to fight drugs.
“Drug cases are a priority to me. This is a tool that will help me and the rest of the officers here,” McCarley said.
Having a dog in Pratt will also be a benefit the city police department time-wise. Right now, the nearest drug dog is 30 miles away.
The department got the dog on Aug. 21 from the Hill Country Dog Center in Pikes Creek, Texas that is just outside San Antonio. The dog has already had some training at the facility in Texas. Most of the dogs purchased at the facility are from Germany or Holland.
Dogs for the program are carefully screened because they need dogs that have the drive to be good working dogs, Myers said.
Training is scheduled to start in September at a KHP training facility and both dog and trainer will be working toward certification. The training is intense and demanding. And that suits McCarley just fine.
“They (KHP) are known as the best. They train for excellence in every aspect. Their training is very hard,” McCarley said. “If we are going to do something here, I want it to be the very best.”
Both McCarley and the dog have tests they have to complete. The training is so intense that the dog or officer could wash out out at any time during the training session. The KHP chooses the dogs for the program. If the dog doesn’t work out, then another dog will be selected. Dogs have to complete the training completely before they can be sent out into the field.
“If the dog doesn’t work out, they will go get another. We are guaranteed a working dog,” Myers said.
The Pratt Police dog will have a single purpose and that is drug detection. Sometimes dogs are dual trained to also search for humans, but at this time, the need for that training wasn’t there so the decision was to go only for drug training, Myers said.
“We didn’t feel we need- ed the additional capabilities at this time,” Myers said.
Five weeks of training sessions at the KHP facility will result in state and nationwide certification for both McCarley and the dog. McCarley will be considered an expert K-9 handler.
Getting a drug dog pro-gram for the police department has been in the works for some time. The department received some donated funds to help purchase the dog.
Pratt residents have already seen the vehicle for the K-9 program. A 2016 Ford Explorer was purchased used from the KHP. The white vehicle has decals that identify it as a K-9 unit. Because the dog will always be in the vehicle, some special equipment was installed to help keep the dog safe. In the event the engine would quit or the air conditioner would stop working in the summer time, there are heat sensors in the vehicle that would cause the windows to roll down and sound the horn to alert the officer that there was a problem in the car, Myers said.
When the department considered establishing a K-9 program, they had to consider the financial investment for the vehicle and the dog. Drug dogs are not cheap. The dog alone is $8,500 and that is without certification, Myers said.
While there is cost for the vehicle and the dog, training and certification is free. There is some expense for the officer’s food and lodging during the training session. There is also cost for care and handling of the dog. Things like dog collars, harness, leash, food and water bowls, chew toys, dog food and veterinarian costs also have to be taken into consideration.
Having a drug dog will put people on guard. Having the K-9 vehicle on patrol has already had a psychological effect on the community. When someone with drugs in their vehicle sees a K-9 unit, they want to get off the road and avoid any contact, Myers said.
“It will put people on guard,” Myers said.
A drug dog is another tool in the war on drugs. A trained drug dog is active for about eight years and then is retired.