K9 Unit: Duties and Responsibilities
All K9s are trained to a high level of obedience. They are expected to follow both verbal and hand commands of their handler. The dogs are able to be placed in a "down stay" while the ECO handler converses with the public, yet be ready for immediate recall if necessary.
DEC's K9s are trained for a variety of tasks. First and foremost they are "locating tools". That is they are primarily used to locate evidence and people, using their superior senses, primarily their keen sense of smell. With 225 million scent receptors compared to humans mere 5 million, a German Shepherd has the ability to detect odor thousands of times better than humans. Taking advantage of this ability, ECOs can save valuable time and resources by locating evidence much quicker and with greater certainty than several people searching the same area. We put that ability to work several ways.
Game violators take wildlife in closed seasons, after hours, illegally from roadways, and by other illegal means. To assist in the apprehension of game violators, our K9s are trained to detect a variety of wildlife species such as venison, black bear, wild turkey, trout, bass and perch. Wildlife detection can be performed at camps and outbuildings, open land, barns, and vehicles, locating illegally taken game that has been hidden. They also can quickly search large areas finding physical evidence such as wildlife parts, gut piles, and blood.
Spent shell and firearm Detection:
K9s are trained to locate spent shell casings from firearms, and firearms that have been hidden afield. The location of spent shell casings is useful in the investigation of Hunter Related Shootings (HRSI), and many other offenses, such as discharging a firearm within 500 feet of dwellings. Locating a spent shell may determine the point of firearm discharge, and allow the casing to be scientifically matched to a firearm.
Our K9s are used to track human scent, and are frequently used in a traditional way to track persons evading Officers, lost and missing people, and investigating suspicious activities of people after they have left the area. Our K9s utilize the scent left by a person, and crushed vegetation odors to track. However, the K9 Unit also utilizes tracking to apprehend poachers by tracking them from the scene of an illegal kill or baited area back to their camp or residence. Or by tracking fishermen who may be fishing out of view in closed areas.
Photographed by Jim Houghtaling
The duties of an Environmental Conservation Officer are recognized as one of the more dangerous law enforcement professions. Because of the nature of their duties, K9s are trained to protect their handlers, fellow Officers, and the public from harm. It should be noted that in spite of the seriousness of this training, the K9s remain social and professional in public.