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Community Safety

Non-profit Agency Donates Protective Vests to SPD K9 Teams

At police departments across the country, officers generally have access to protective vests. But it’s not as common an option for the police dogs that are also out on patrol. As KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann reports, recent donations have made those protections possible for K9 units in the Springfield Police Department.

Police officers are faced with dangerous situations on a daily basis, as are their canine police-dog counterparts.  Pet products company PetArmor, in partnership with the Massachusetts non-profit group Vested Interest In K9s, Inc., are donating bullet and stab proof protective vests for police departments with K9 teams across the country.   

Six vests are being donated to the Springfield Police Department’s K9 teams that otherwise cost $950 apiece.  Officer Michael Karnes, alongside canine partner Charlie, explains the department would not be able to afford the necessary vests if it were not for this donation.

“They’re important because it ensures their safety.  If we have to put them in a house with a suspect they may be armed with a weapon or a gun,” explains Karnes.

Officer Karnes and Charlie have been partners for nearly a year. Charlie is a Belgian Malinois acquired from overseas and responds to commands in Dutch.

Karnes explains that becoming a canine handler for the SPD is a sought after position since there are only six teams, and requires a special application process.  He says he had been with the department for 12 years as a police officer before becoming a K9 handler.

“I’ve always had an interest in doing canine.  What a cool partner to have—what a cool thing to be able do.  I’m telling you, when your dog finds somebody it’s very satisfactory.  There’s not a bigger accomplishment because of all of the time and work you put into your dog, when something comes together—it’s beautiful,” Karnes shares.

Credit Vested Interest
The vests are expected to arrive in Springfield in July.

Canine police teams are together 24/7, Karnes explains, as his partner Charlie goes home with him at the end of each day.  It is a strong bond and tight working relationship starting from the very beginning, explains Karnes. Teams train for three months when they first begin working together learning basic obedience, narcotics training, tracking and detention. 

“We’re a detention agency meaning our dogs when they apprehend or locate somebody, they’re to come in about 3 to 6-feet away and bark at the suspect. Other agencies are what they call ‘find and bite’ dogs where they don’t detain.  So a lot of our training is detention work with the dogs,” Karnes says. 

A majority of the training centers around detention, says Karnes, but notes his favorite thing is tracking.

“…because it is the hardest thing to do. It really is because you have to take wind into account, the climate the weather, and you have to take your dog into account.  Is his tail wagging? Are his ears up?  Is his nose to the ground? How do I get his nose more to the ground?” explains Karnes.

Karnes says in their year together Charlie has detected narcotics in vehicles and homes a number of times, has apprehended four fleeing individuals, and located an armed man in a basement.

The  protective vests for the Springfield K9 unit are expected to arrive around July.

SPD’s K9 unit is also comprised of Officer Jeffrey Ferneau and K9 Terra, Officer Thomas Spence and K9 Aries, Officer Matthew Shackleford and K9 Ike, Officer Christopher Rasmussen and K9 Jax and Officer Eric Hawkins and K9 Rocky.