K9 Police Officer

If you've always thought that becoming a K9 Police Officer would be a unique and exciting career choice, you're barking up the right tree. K9 police officers, commonly referred to as K9 cops are an exclusive and unique group of law enforcement professionals. K9 police officers work for county sheriffs, state and city police departments, and for federal law enforcement agencies patrolling domestic and international seaports, airports and borders (e.g. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Both the K9 officer and the K9 itself receive specialized law enforcement training. A common requirement for becoming a K9 police officer is the completion of a criminal justice degree or advanced law enforcement training and several years of on-the-job experience as a police officer.

While the Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd are the most common breeds used by canine units, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and Bloodhounds are also employed. Bloodhounds, and sometimes even Beagles, given their powerful sense of smell, are used to detect illegal substances, detect cadavers, and find explosives hidden in baggage.

K9 Unit Job Duties
We've already mention some of the general responsibilities for K9 officers and their canines. Below are specific duties performed by K9 officers and police dogs on a regular basis:

  • Discover illicit drugs, explosives, chemicals and other illegal substances
  • Find and rescue individuals that are missing or have been kidnapped
  • Track and apprehend fugitives fleeing from the law
  • Discover cadavers that have been buried or left in the wilderness
  • Locate evidence from crime scenes
  • Inspect vehicles
  • Deter criminals who might otherwise confront or assault a police officer
  • Identify people who have been carrying or have been in contact with illegal drugs and controlled substances

Although exciting at times, K9 police officers have many mundane duties. K9 cops are required to cleaning out their dog's kennel, perform routine searches of prisons, jails, public facilities (schools and recreation areas), and vehicles. K9 cops are often on call 24 hours a day, and must be ready to travel on short notice.

A Job with a Bite
Having successfully completed law enforcement training, you need to review the application requirements for city, state, or federal police jobs. As the application requirements vary by agency it is important that you determine which agency you want to work for and then examine in detail exactly what is required by that agency. Regardless of the hiring agency, in most cases, new officers are sent to a police academy to receive advanced law enforcement training. Upon completion of your training you'll be assigned to a post as a uniformed police officer. After 2 to 4 years on the job you can start applying for K9 police officer openings within your agency. Once accepted you'll enter an intensive law enforcement training program for yourself as well as your four-legged partner.

Its recommended that you inform your agency that you desire to become a K9 cop long before your application date so that you get on the radar of your superiors. There are an extremely limited number of job openings for K9 police officers and competition for job spots can be high.

Working K9 officers have suggested that if you're really interested in becoming a K9 cop that you can demonstrate your interest in the position by accepting the role as "criminal decoy" during K9 training sessions and by volunteering to ride along with actual K9 cops on their shifts.

K9 Police Officer Training
K9 police officers and their K9 companions both receives specialized training in the detection of narcotics, electronic devices, explosives, and corpses. They also learn patrol protocols, including how to release your dog, call for backup, track criminal suspects, exchange a leash for a weapon, and bringing their dog to heel after apprehension of a a suspect. K9 law enforcement training is intensive and requires a lot of time. Its important that the officer and his/her canine build a strong relationship of trust and confidence in order to be an effective team.

The canine used in police work starts their training when they're about 1 to 2 years old. However, before a dog can begin training it must be tested to ensure it has the right temperament for the job and can easily adapt to different environments. The most essential characteristic of a good K9 dog is its defense drive, as well as its instinct to chase and apprehend prey. Dogs must also pass an extensive physical by a veterinarian.

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K9 Officer Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BlS), police officers earn roughly $56,000 a year. However, K9 Officers typically earn more than other officers of a similar rank. The additional training, expenses and responsibilities that K9 Officers have usually translate in a slightly higher annual compensation. They're also reimbursed for many of the costs associated with caring for their canine partner.

The states where police officers tend to earn the most include New Jersey ($79,000), California ($77,000), and the District of Columbia ($68,000).

Rewards of Being a K9 Cop
Most active K9 officers report a high level of job satisfaction knowing that they work for an elite club of law enforcement officers. As most K9 cops have worked as a unformed police officer for at least 2 to 4 years prior to becoming a K9 cop they all have ample on-the-street experience and have passed their probationary assignments. Only success police officers become K9 copes. A K9 police officer's ways will vary by city, state, and federal agency. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, police officers earned a median annual wage of $55,410 in 2010, with the top ten percent making $83,680.

If you loves dogs and want to right crime, you can jump start your law enforcement career by enrolling in one of the many criminal justice degree programs. And as positions on the canine unit are highly coveted amongst law enforcement officers, it pays off to get all the relevant training and experience you can prior to applying.

Learn More
Nationwide there are several organizations dedicated to K9 police work, specifically to canine police dogs. These include the American Police Canine Association (APCA), North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA), U.S. Police Canine Association (USPCA), National Narcotic Detector Dog Association (NNDDA), and National Police Canine Association (NPCA).

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