How robots can keep K9s and officers safer in SWAT operations
Learn how K9s and robots can work together and how to get a program started
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By PoliceOne Brand Focus Staff
K9s are used by police agencies as part of a team, usually to identify hidden suspects first before SWAT officers enter a scene. K9s are providing a life-saving service by safeguarding officers from ambushes and harm.
But who safeguards the K9s?
New programs are being developed at police agencies using remote control robots to sweep scenes first for visible clues or suspect identification in order to make K9s’ jobs a lot safer.
Agencies should adopt a K9 and robot SWAT strategy, said Corp. Brad Smith, West Covina (Calif.) Police Department (retired) and a 20-year dog handler. Smith, now an instructor at Canine Tactical Operations, said agencies have to have the right tools to make this program work.
Many SWAT teams already have K9s onsite and just need to purchase a robot with audio and visual capability. Then, the actual training takes very little time.
The robot is introduced to the dogs who are usually between 1- and 2-years-old. After a few exercises, the dogs see the robot as part of the SWAT team, Smith said.
Sgt. Chris Boyd oversees the robot and K9 program at the Carlsbad (Calif.) Police Department, which has 162 full-time employees and serves a population of 120,000 across 42 square-miles.
The department has four K9s — three Belgian Malinois and one German Shepard — and their handlers. Three of four canine handlers are on the department’s SKIDDS-certified SWAT K9 team.
The department holds regular training involving the robots and K9s. Handlers participate in obedience training, including down, stay and heel drills, while another officer operates the robot — moving it towards and away from the dogs.
Training is repeated quarterly to keep K9s and their handlers as refreshed as possible on SWAT tactics.
Once training of the dogs and robots are completed, operational changes have to be addressed. Having a robot at the scene changes K9 operations, since the robots are the first to enter the scene to gather data, followed by the K9s.
The robot can use video tools to stream surroundings, check out a room or a floor in a building, open up doors, inspect closets, and more.
“If the robot locates someone waiting to ambush officers, then we can use its speaker and camera so we can talk to the suspect,” Smith said. “The best part is the fact SWAT officers and K9s are far from the incident”
If the robot is unable to locate a suspect, the K9 is sent to do a second sweep as dogs can sniff out suspects that are hidden and potential threats to responding officers.
Running a program
When a SWAT call is received, the robot and K9 are added to the pack and deployed. Boyd said the robot is sent first for visual identification. This lets them size up a situation from a distance, often a 100 feet or more away, without putting SWAT or K9s lives on the line.
If a suspect isn’t identified, then the team will send the canine in next, Boyd said. The robot remains on the scene with the K9s, close by the dog’s side, so handlers and SWAT officers can view video feed of the dog’s behavior while the K9 handler interprets it.
“The handler can watch on the monitor of the controller and look for behavior, so maybe the dog puts his ears up, turns his head really quick in a certain area…,” he said. “We can locate the suspect this way.”
Cues from the dogs help the SWAT team acquire essential situational awareness, such as the location of the suspect.
Once the robot and K9 have done a sweep of the area, the last step is to send in SWAT. Smith said by this third sweep, suspects are left with nowhere to hide.
Boyd said incorporating K9 with robots in their SWAT team has led to safer operations, for both the dogs and the SWAT officers.
“It is a program that lets us safely and effectively handle dangerous situations from a distance, while keeping an eye on our K9s,” he said.
Using a robot in a K9 program has proven successful in enhancing the safety of police officers and the K9s they handle. With a little training and operational changes, they easily can be added to any SWAT/K9 team.
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