Although police officers are able to serve the community on their own, the inclusion of a K-9 unit in a police department greatly improves the department's ability to enforce local, state and federal laws. For instance, K-9 units use highly trained dogs to sniff out illegal substances or to locate missing persons. The job description for a K-9 unit officer accommodates this use of dogs, but also follows the description for a general police officer.
K-9 unit officers, before all else, are law enforcement agents. As such, they still are responsible for responding to calls for assistance, investigating criminal activity, writing and filing reports and related paperwork, apprehending and questioning suspects, and participating in community services and events such as crime status meetings. In addition to these duties, K-9 officers are responsible for training and caring for their dogs, who serve as partners to the K-9 officers.
The precise work that a K-9 officer will do depends on the type of dog with which the department pairs him. For instance, if the department pairs the K-9 officer with a dog trained in general public order, then the officer uses the dog to apprehend or control suspects. If the department assigns the officer to a dog trained to smell narcotics or bomb ingredients, then the officer will use the dog to locate illegal substances and explosive devices. Departments also pair officers with cadaver dogs who locate bodies, or tracking dogs who locate living individuals.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of departments require that K-9 officers have a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent, with some college (preferably in criminal justice or a related field) preferred. Officers must complete academy training and meet physical fitness requirements. Physical fitness is especially important for K-9 officers because they must be able to physically handle their dog in training and keep up with the dog when the dog is on duty.
Officers cannot simply jump into the K-9 department upon entering the police department. They typically have to go through a probationary period, which is anywhere from six months to three years, according to the BLS. During this period, the new officer receives on-the-job training and has the opportunity to establish himself in the department. The officer requests assignment to the K-9 unit after this period. Since departments give promotions and assignments based on seniority, it may take several years to get into the unit, especially if the unit has only a small number of dogs.
Skills and Considerations
K-9 officers, like any officer, must be able to handle the stress of police work and have a strong ethical and moral sense. They should like animals and be sensitive and patient enough to train the dog properly. Since K-9 officers are partnered with an animal instead of a human being, they may experience some loneliness while on the job.
Pay and Outlook
According to 2008 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, general police officers (which includes K-9 officers) made a median salary of $51,410, as of May 2008. State officers tend to make more than federal or local officers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics considered police officers to have a favorable job outlook. The need for K-9 officers was seen increasing if the United States takes a more aggressive stance against drugs and terrorism due to increased criminal activity.
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