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January 1, 2013 > Newark's K-9 Corps

Newark's K-9 Corps

By Pat Kite
Photos By Brian Edwards

On a dare, a drunk decided to sneak up and open a police K-9 cruiser door. Mr. Inebriated quickly found himself face to face with Ares, 80-pounds of fur and muscle. The large German Shepherd sat patiently on his assigned seat. Maybe he showed some nice white sharp teeth, but he didn't move. Newark Police Dogs are well trained. The inebriated person got a misdemeanor citation since to harass, molest, annoy or strike a police dog is a crime.

The City of Newark currently has two trained K-9s [K-9=canine] in service: Ares and Eliot. Ares handler is Canine Officer Nick Mavrakis and Eliot's handler is Canine Officer Britain Jackman.

People often ask, "Why are German Shepherds used so often as police dogs?"

Police dogs have many shapes and categories: Detector dogs, often Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers, are trained to sniff out bombs and narcotics, fire- starters, and victim bodies. Bloodhounds are tireless trackers. Other K-9s might be Belgian Malinois, Dobermans, Rottweiler's and others.

But the German Shepherd is prized for its agility, fearlessness and obedience. They are also selected because of their unique versatility. They are excellent trackers for finding missing children, can be taught to sniff for bombs and for drugs, etc... along with their high protective drive. "German Shepherds are also more social," explains Ray Hoppe, Newark's Canine Coordinator who owns the now retired K-9, Uras. "K-9 dogs are used to apprehend, but also to visit classrooms and meet children."

Newark's K-9s are acquired from European German Shepherd specialists Witmer-Tyson; they are given basic training in the Czech Republic. Upon request, up to five dogs are brought to a special German Shepherd kennel in Menlo Park, CA. The potential handler and other officers review the K-9 recruits in the field for courage, shyness, and reactions to agitation. "They showed us several dogs," Officer Mavrakis recalls. "Ares was 18 months old, and the smallest dog there. But smaller is good for getting into small places or into a car."

German Shepherds brought in for police work are between 17 months and two years old. Witmer-Tyson keeps track of the medical history, lineage and ancestry. It does cost a bit more, but there is better breeding control.

After adoption, training begins and continues throughout an animal's five-to-seven year K-9 service. Constant training emphasizes narcotics search, criminal apprehension and building search and deterrent. "For example," says Canine Coordinator Hoppe, "If a person is being very verbally aggressive, and seems to be getting increasingly agitated, perhaps tries to obtain an officer's gun, it becomes a potentially dangerous situation. A radio transmitter allows the K-9 dog to leave the car and come to the officer. All of a sudden there is an attitude change."

Searches are another K-9 use in obscured areas, such as a field of heavy brush where an armed suspect may be hiding, "We're sitting ducks if he is waiting for us," Mavrakis states. "We give every opportunity for the guy to come out... every opportunity. When that doesn't happen, out goes the police dog. The dog will find the suspect, who may be lying low and playing possum. Standing next to him, is the K-9 dog. If the suspect doesn't move, neither does the dog."

Yes, K-9 dogs can, and sometimes do, bite; 400 pounds bite pressure per square inch, on direct orders - a hand sign or verbally. But usually, Hoppe explains, "the person sees the dog and becomes compliant. We've had thousands of experiences like that."

K-9 dogs and their handlers are a forever team. The bond is intense. "The dog becomes part of your life, part of your family," says Canine Officer Jackman. "Eliot finds bad guys, lost kids, more quickly than a regular officer. Becoming a Canine Officer has always been my goal and dream."

Mavrakis entered police work as a police explorer in Union City. Hired in Newark 12 years ago, he wanted to be a Canine Officer from the start. A year ago, he got Ares. "These dogs are unbelievably smart," he emphasizes. "But they are dogs. They want to be dogs. They like to chew on stuff. Ares has shredded my gloves, his toys. The first thing he did in our house was pee on the rug." Now potty-trained, Ares lives in the Mavrakis home, with his family including a cat that he likes.

K-9 Eliot lives with the Jackman family, but in a custom 6-foot by 20 foot-long kennel outdoors. His outdoor companion: a tortoise.

Canine Coordinator Hoppe's K-9 dog named Uras has been retired for two years, "But he is always ready to go. He goes with us on vacations, camping, in the back seat of our truck. But when he hears a police siren, Urasstill gets excited," just in case.

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