Calgary Police officially graduated four new police service dogs on Tuesday, marking the achievements of the dogs in becoming full members of the service.
Kase, Malin, Merc, and Banner have been working with their handlers for the past several months. The occasion served as a recognition of the thousands of hours of training put in over two years to get them ready for active duty.
“It’s an important day for me because I’m a huge supporter of our canine unit. It’s been a point of pride for the services, it’s going back to 1960,” said Calgary Police Chief Constable Mark Neufeld.
“I think sometimes we don’t realize the work that these dogs do in the community, whether it’s tracking and connecting evidence to crimes, keeping officers safe keeping the public safe, finding people who are missing day to day—we have four dogs on around the city, and they’re busy all the time.”
The ceremony also marked the retirement of several former police dogs, who, after eight years in service, retired to become full-time family pets.
He said that the service has strived for excellence, and that level of attention towards training the best possible officers extends to the police dogs as well.
“When we invest in dogs like this, we actually want to keep them on for as long as we can before we retire them,” Chief Neufeld said.
“We make sure these dogs are looked after, they’re well fed, they’re well looked after by the veterinarians and stuff like that. They’re healthy, and we like to keep all of our employees healthy including the dogs.”
Chief Neufeld called the position of a K9 handler within CPS a unique one.
“Lots of times we think that it’s people who are like dog lovers or whatever, but it isn’t necessarily… it’s hard work. It’s busy work. They’re called out a lot for high-risk calls,” he said.
Unlike other officers in the service, a handler’s partner isn’t a human being – it’s their police dog, he said.
“It’s a very unique relationship. And so if you think about working for 10 years in the car together with a four-legged partner, you become pretty darn close.”
Police service working to make the canine unit more culturally appropriate
Chief Neufeld said that the service has reflected upon the use of K9 units, especially when there have been cultural friction points between the historic use of dogs as tools of oppression and CPS’s use of dogs to keep officers safe.
He said that during the shooting of Latjor Tuel by police, which lead to his death, a police dog was used during that incident. ASIRT found that Tuel stabbed the police dog prior to him being shot by police.
“What we learned there were some cultures, and I think the Sudanese were one of them, dogs were used at certain points to round people up,” said Chief Neufeld.
“There’s a fear, I think, in some of the communities around some of the dogs and there’s some trauma for some folks when they come over.”
He said that the service has worked with handlers to make them aware of these cultural and historical issues that surround the use of dogs, and that the service has engaged in community outreach to help them understand why CPS deploys K9 units.
Chief Neufeld also addressed the danger that the dogs face. The plaza space outside of YouthLink Police Interpretive Centre is dedicated to the dogs that have been killed on duty.
“The park that was developed there through the generosity of the Ziegler family, pays homage to that here in Calgary.”
“Sometimes, and it’s hard to do, but sometimes we send the dogs into situations there where we wouldn’t want to send members, at least a first. So yeah, they put it all on the line for Calgarians as well.”
When not being used for police calls, the K9 teams will frequently be at the YouthLink to meet with school-aged children, said Chief Neufeld.
“They’re all business when they’re working, but yet you can bring them into a room full of kids and people like we did today and they can be extremely social,” he said.
“Here’s another place where people come to see the program and how it works and just understand the value that they bring.”