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SWAT, K9, Patrol and Rifles

K9 teams provide a tremendous resource to law enforcement. In order for K9 teams to be effective, the handler must be focused on his piece of the pie—handling the dog. K9 teams searching for armed, violent suspects cannot carry out their mission alone and unprotected. They need tactical backup and a lethal force component. Personnel armed with a rifle or sub-machine gun are ideal for this mission. Long guns provide increased accuracy at distance, increased ammunition and a domineering presence.

The preferred resource to utilize for this mission is SWAT. However, most law enforcement agencies do not staff full-time SWAT teams, preventing them from being readily available for such missions. The solution is to have a mechanism in place to get SWAT operators on scene quickly and/or utilize officers who are qualified with a patrol rifle like the AR-15 or Mini-14. We are often required to maximize or even stretch our current resources to ensure that operations are conducted safely and efficiently. Expanding the role of SWAT and those authorized to use the patrol rifle to support K9 is an example of this.

Many progressive agencies have adopted the use of the patrol rifle to supplement the patrol tool box. The SWAT team training cadre could be utilized to assist with your agency’s patrol rifle training, Active Shooter training programs, and wherever their tactical expertise could benefit the agency as a whole. Using SWAT instructors in this way maximizes the investment you have made in each of them, their experience and their training.

The Big Search

The primary mission of a K9 team is to search for and apprehend a criminal who has eluded capture. The team must be protected when searching and have resources available to take the suspect into custody when located. They should not search alone and have to direct resources to them when they are needed; they should already be present. When the K9 team tracks to a location, the suspect may be compliant; may resist arrest, requiring the K9 to be deployed; or may utilize deadly force against the team when confronted.

The success of K9’s mission is dependent upon several characteristics: 1) immediate on-scene management and deployment of appropriate resources, i.e., establish command; 2) rapid establishment of an effective and appropriate perimeter, including a perimeter that is large enough, with enough perimeter points and aviation support when available; 3) a contamination-free perimeter, i.e., personnel should not walk through or conduct their own search once they have lost sight of the suspect; 4) establishment of a reliable “last-seen” point; 5) immediate broadcast of a good physical and clothing description; and 6) the ability for the K9 handler to safely search for the suspect(s).

A successful K9 mission requires training. The central point is the ability of the K9 handler to read any subtle changes in the K9’s behavior, which are indicators of human scent that may establish the track that locates the suspect. When the handler is “eyes up,” he cannot read the K9 and simultaneously attempt to determine where to go next, avoid/navigate around an obstacle, identify a person as friend or foe, and determine whether a suspect is emerging from a structure and/or engaging from a distance.

The handler must be situationally aware at all times, and this is difficult when multi-tasking. A second or third set of eyes allows the handler to concentrate on the K9 partner’s senses and responses. The backup provides an extra set of hands when the apprehension occurs and an immediate response to deadly force when the handler is busy managing the dog.

Primary Mission

The K9 handler should not be alone when searching for an armed or violent suspect. The best scenario is to use a SWAT operator or patrol-rifle-qualified officer as lethal cover, as well as a second backup officer as the “contact” officer for cuffing and searching. If a SWAT operator is available, he is probably the best choice to deploy with a long gun. If a third officer is not used, the rifle operator must remember to sling (control) the rifle during the contact (cuffing/searching) process. This can be problematic.

It is important to remember that not all people are comfortable around dogs, especially police work dogs. There have been numerous incidents in which unfamiliar officers with good intentions have accidentally come too close to a K9 and have been bitten. This occurs either during the search when they get too close, or when they go “hands on” with the suspect prematurely, i.e., before the K9 has disengaged. In severe cases, uncomfortable officers, out of fear of injury, have shot the police work dog. The backup personnel must listen to the handler’s instructions, follow those instructions and always be alert.

The best solution is to be proactive. K9 handlers should provide training to SWAT operators and then use SWAT as a resource. If your agency has a K9 unit, it is imperative that all of your patrol officers are provided with familiarization training. This training should include, but not be limited to, establishing a perimeter, perimeter contamination, agency policy, and the “dos and don’ts” when officers are in proximity of the K9. Handlers and those who work the afternoon and midnight shifts, when most K9 searches occur, form their own bond. This bond is established among the handler, officer and K9 after a few searches have been conducted.

SWAT K9 Response

My SWAT team (Broward, FL Sheriff’s Office) routinely trains and deploys with K9. The criteria for our response are simple: We respond either when a K9 handler request is made, or when officers are involved with an armed/violent suspect. When a request is initiated via the radio, the dispatcher will broadcast the request over all county dispatch channels and initiate a SWAT page for “On-Duty SWAT” personnel. Once the dispatcher receives an acknowledgment, the SWAT operator is provided with the basic information: type of crime, location of incident and radio channel.

If there is no response from the broadcast or the page for “On-Duty SWAT,” or if additional resources are needed, the K9 Unit supervisor is contacted and will make the request to the SWAT commander or his designee. SWAT personnel will be called out (off duty) and will respond to the incident location. Fortunately, I work for a large agency, and an on-duty SWAT operator is usually available. This does not preclude a smaller agency from adopting the same policy.

SWAT and K9 Tactical Training

My SWAT team routinely trains with our K9 unit. This training includes, but is not limited to, calisthenics, searching techniques, proximity, sleeve and bite suit work. There are many things that make a SWAT team successful. The most important, of course, is the human resource, i.e., competent operators and handlers.

The SWAT operator must always be aware of his proximity to the handler and the K9. This is important because the K9 is focused on working and is protective of the handler. The most important part of the training we conduct is developing the operator’s comfort around the K9. Each operator wears the bite suit and sleeve and takes bites from the K9s. Specialized K9 training and the SWAT/K9 marriage works very well, providing an increased level of safety. The benefits far exceed the investment.

Patrol and K9 Training

Familiarization training can and should be delivered by an on-duty handler from the home command (agency/district) or assisting (outside) agency during in-service or roll call training. This training can be supplemented by providing the audience with a simple informative handout on the K9 unit’s expectations for a successful apprehension. It is a realistic possibility and enhances the safety of both handler and officer. Officers who are qualified in use of the patrol rifle and have shown a desire to search with K9 should be sought after and utilized to their maximum potential.

Lieutenant Darin D. Dowe is a 22-year veteran of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, FL, a veteran SWAT operator, a tactical WMD program coordinator, a SWAT instructor in multiple disciplines and a former sniper. He also has a background in Homeland Security, investigations and patrol. He is a frequent contributor to Tactical Response and LAW & ORDER magazine. Dowe can be reached via e-mail at

Published in Tactical Response, Mar/Apr 2010

Rating : 8.1

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K9 to Carbine Picture

Posted on : Nov 7 at 10:18 PM By Boyd W

If there is one thing I have learned in 22 years of Law Enforcement. 11 as a Utility Dog Handler 4 on SWAT There are no absolutes. If the the Officer with the rifle is a well trained operator, Im sure he would know to muzzle down, step back and let the dog take care of business. Pluswith proper training with a dog team, the cuffing Officer should know at the 1st sign of resistance? Get the heck out-a-the-way. The pic works either way...I agree, I wouldnt try this with a regular road guy

Dep. Sheriff

Posted on : Jun 17 at 8:18 PM By Aaron Wheeler

This is an EXCELLENT article about the integration of the patrol rifle and K-9 when taking a violent suspect in custody while using a contact officer and a cover officer. When searching for and taking violent subjects into custody it is important that all of these resources are readily available. Ideally suspects would just surrender but we have to search for them using K-9 and sometime apply force either it be the K-9 or deadly force.

K9 to carbine COVER PICTURE

Posted on : May 3 at 2:26 PM By Brian Christian


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