A look inside the relationship between an officer and a K-9 police dog
By Conor Stevens
The life of a police officer can become mundane at times falling into the same routine of writing traffic tickets, filing reports, and having very few movie scene moments. Add a furry four-legged friend to your job though, and you’ve gained not just a partner but a new member of your family.
When thinking of police dogs people tend to imagine a vicious German Shepherd growling and ready to attack at any moment. The majority of the time though, this is not the case. There are actually 13 different breeds of dogs used as K-9 units, they range from boxers, to Shepherds, to Golden Retrievers, and even Springer Spaniels. The wide variety of breeds allow for the dogs to provide their police department with one of three very specific skill sets.
Police dogs can serve a number of valuable purposes to a police department, and in the Statesboro Police Department there are three K-9 units currently active, and on Georgia Southern’s campus there is one permanent K-9 unit. Georgia Southern also utilizes Statesboro K-9’s when necessary for events or special circumstances. Cpl. Kyle Britley of the Statesboro Police Department and his partner Rio have been together for seven years and have had a significant impact on the Georgia Southern community from the beginning.
Rio is a narcotic detection dog, a valuable member of the police department, and a member of the family according to Britley. When first brought home from training Rio was not allowed inside the house because he had a hard time telling the difference between home and work.
“His drive was just so high,” said Britley. “He didn’t really have that on-off switch when coming home from work, so I needed to wind him down a little bit.”
That drive however, has helped Rio be a valuable officer and partner to Britley.
On one of his first jobs Rio was out in the woods sniffing for a trace on a drug runner, and came across a man hiding out in the forest. The man froze in fear at the sight of K-9 Rio, who was standing there trying to pick up the trace again when the man turned himself in. Britley explained that the man was actually a wanted suspect for murder in Atlanta. The man did not want to run from the dog because he knew there was no way he could outrun a police dog, but Rio and many other police dogs are not apprehension dogs. There are three distinct types of K-9 units: apprehension, detection, and search and rescue. While some dogs are hybrids, each has their own specific skill set they are trained for during their imprinting, which according to Britley can take up to four weeks which is followed up by K-9 school that can take another four to 12 weeks.
K-9 units and apprehension dogs have been a large source of controversy in recent years due to over-aggression and lack of handling. Videos like Robert Fitts in 2018 and others have put a target on K-9 unit’s backs, and Britley’s explanation for why is very simple: a lack of training.
“There’s a horrible video that recently came out recently that shows poor training, poor apprehension,” said Britley. “The dog is on the guy for three or four minutes biting, and that's not what we train for you know.”
Training for Statesboro’s K-9 units is a very intense process with a minimum of one, eight hour training session per week, with additional training if any issues arise. That training has helped to keep a clean record in Statesboro where the only incident with a police dog was last year during an official training session. Britley explained that this was not the dog’s fault either, but instead the person taking the bite in a training suit not taking the proper steps to protect themselves.
With all the controversy surrounding them though the dogs that are well trained and well taken care of end up being the most valuable members of the community. In some cases, K-9 units are used in apprehension of suspects like in November of 2020 Statesboro K-9, Smokey, helped police find the suspect of a man breaking into cars by tracking the scent of an item stolen from a car. But more regularly, Britley explained, they are used as prevention measures at large events.
“While students are enjoying sporting events the dogs are working to keep them safe,” said Britley.
Explosive detection dogs are used to sniff before and during major events such as sporting events, at theme parks, and other large gatherings.
K-9 units like Rio and Cpl. Britley are dedicated to keeping our campus and community safe, and that starts with their own relationship first. Though it took some time for Rio to adapt to being home after work, he is now a member of Britley’s family fully. Given free range over the house and a seat in the car, Rio and Britely are a crime fighting duo dedicated to keeping you safe the proper way.