Police officials throughout the region say their police dogs are among their most effective assets.
The K-9 teams, a police officer and canine partner, perform duties including tracking suspects and missing persons, arson accelerant detection and drug interdiction that they are specially trained for.
The dogs are also taking on new tasks necessitated by contemporary global hazards. State Police K-9 teams with explosive-sniffing dogs are now on patrol on commuter trains and at Bradley International Airport.
Police dogs serve a public relations function, too. Officers say the dogs are particularly popular with children, and some police departments routinely hold K-9 demonstrations at community fairs and festivals.
Even the few local police departments that don’t have K-9 police dog teams call in teams from neighboring towns for mutual aid when an incident requires it.
In the , Officer Jason Venditto is paired with his K-9 partner Titan, who has been instrumental in a number of arrests since the pair joined together.
The Branford Police Department’s K-9 team consists of Officer David Atkinson and his K-9 partner, Neeko. Capt. Geoffrey Morgan said Neeko is an extremely effective resource to locate missing persons or to sniff out narcotics during vehicle stops.
“We use him every day of the week. He works 40 hours a week with his K-9 handler,” Morgan said.
Stratford Police has three K-9 teams and Milford Police has four, making it more likely that at least one team will be on duty during the busiest hours of the day for law enforcement.
“Their senses are well above ours, especially smell and hearing,” said Milford Police spokesman Officer Jeffrey Neilsen.
Milford Police have a page on their web site devoted to their K-9 teams, which includes information for the public on how to behave around the dogs. The teams are , Officer Patrick Taylor and Noble, Detective Arthur Huggins and Kilmer, and Officer Brian Rojee and Vader.
Stratford officers Tom Clements, Bob Joy and Chris Goode say their K-9 partners have distinctly different personalities. Clements’ dog Khan is the most energetic. Joy’s dog Roscoe, the oldest of the three, is laid back. Gunny, Goode’s dog, is quiet and alert.
Joy said Roscoe has found who he was tracking 58 times. “That’s got to be one of the highest stats in Fairfield County,” said Clements.
The 58th tracking call occurred in December when Roscoe tracked down a domestic violence suspect who was hiding in some bushes.
Khan is the youngest dog, a replacement for Clements’ previous K-9 partner, Zak, who died of natural causes while on duty in 2009. Forty-four K-9 teams from Connecticut and New York attended Zak’s funeral, the officers said.
Other departments with K-9 teams are North Haven (Zeus and Koda), , North Branford (Chase), and Orange (Maximus).
Woodbridge Assistant Chief Ray Stuart, who was a K-9 officer when he worked for the Milford Police in the 1980s, said he would like to add a K-9 unit if the town could afford it.
Woodbridge calls in another department’s K-9 team, often from Orange or the State Police, several times a year. If the department had its own team, Stuart said it could make routine use of the dog, plus help other departments when their dog was off-duty.
“We would love to have a dog on duty,” he said. “They’re an invaluable tool."
State Police spokesman Lt. Paul Vance said the State Police have 95 dogs on duty across the state, some on patrol or at the ready at the various troop barracks, and others specially trained to sniff explosives or arson accelerants.
The State Police also provides training programs for the dogs and handlers.
Typically, the K-9 dogs are German shepherds, although a few are golden retrievers, bloodhounds, yellow Labradors and other breeds.
Police officials in several departments said they got their dogs from breeders in Hungary and the Czech Republic that specialize in law enforcement and military dogs.
“By the time they are ready for formal training, they become outstanding candidates,” said Lt. David D’Ancicco of the North Branford Police Department.
He said North Branford’s K-9 dog Chase, teamed up with Officer Mauro Piroli, graduated first in his class at the police academy, and is also trained to sniff out narcotics.
Chase comes from the Czech Republic, D’Ancicco said. Since Chase finished patrol training on July 5, he assisted in making four drug arrests.
The eastern European dogs are bred smaller than German shepherds from the United States. At about 65 pounds, Chase is less imposing than bigger dogs, but he’s faster.
“He’s extremely agile and his foot speed is extremely fast,” D’Ancicco said.
Orange Assistant Chief Edward Koether said the department’s dog, Maximus, is a long-haired shepherd, paired up with Officer Michael Kosh. “They call him Max,” Koether said of the dog, who usually works the evening shift and is from Hungary.
“Little kids love to hug him,” he said.
Koether said Max is trained to act aggressively and bark on command, but that’s not a reflection of his temperament.
“With K-9s, they are not reacting out of anger. They are acting out of training,” he said. “That’s what they are trained to do.”