VINTON–The Vinton Police force has a new patrol team pairing Officer Stephen Foutz with K-9 partner, Jax, a German Shepherd. The team has recently completed a six week training course in nearby Franklin County with canine expert John Hoover, a deputy with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and a master trainer for the Virginia Police Work Dog Association.
Under the management and handling of Foutz, the dog will primarily be used for drug detection, but also for search and patrol duties. While Vinton has a relatively low crime rate, the majority of crimes in Vinton are in some way drug-related.
Plans for the reinstatement of the K-9 unit, which was disbanded several years ago, began to take shape earlier this year.
“The acquisition of a properly trained K-9 will greatly enhance our drug enforcement capabilities and will also provide the community, the K-9 officer, and the K-9 with the safest working environment possible,” said Vinton Police Chief Ben Cook, in addressing Town Council at an August meeting.
Cook asked Council to adopt a resolution appropriating $10,500 from the federal ATF Forfeiture Fund to purchase the police dog and to pay for related training.
“The drug asset forfeiture fund will finance a tool to fight back against drug crimes in Vinton,” said Cook. “Drugs have been and likely will continue to be the root of most of the crime that we experience locally.”
The police department elected to purchase a dog bred and trained for narcotics detection and patrol work from Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, a renowned facility for K-9 dogs on the East Coast. Many K-9 units in local jurisdictions and the Virginia State Police use dogs from Shallow Creek Kennels.
Jax came to the Pennsylvania facility from the Netherlands in June. Foutz traveled to the kennel in August and selected the dog, based on the specific law enforcement needs of the Vinton community and the subsequent recommendations of the kennel.
The use of K-9 units has evolved over the years, producing teams which provide many types of services. Unfortunately, some picture a police K-9 as an ill tempered dog which bites everyone it encounters and barks at anyone approaching its vehicle.
While this option of a police dog function is available and valuable to departments in high crime areas, other types of dogs currently exist to assist law enforcement. Vinton wanted a dog of good working temperament to serve the needs of the Town.
The two trained together four days a week from 10 to 12 hours a day for six weeks. They also trained at home on off duty time. The team is now certified by the North American Police Work Dog Association and the Virginia Police Work Dog Association in both narcotic and patrol functions.
The K-9 training program itself begins with learning obedience commands.
“There is no magic recipe,” said Foutz. “The dog learns to listen and you build up trust over time between the dog and trainer. The dog has to have the right drives to be a K-9 dog.”
Learning to detect narcotics is like a game for a K-9 dog, He is first trained to sniff out towels saturated with drug scents, playing tug of war and retrieving items associated with the odor. This progresses to hiding the towel and teaching the dog to use his nose to locate the scent. Rewards follow for uncovering the item using a command such as “Find It”.
The handler uses voice inflections to get the K-9’s attention and to get him excited about locating the narcotics. Treats like chew toys are his rewards.
Foutz has taught Jax some commands in English and some using the Dutch language, depending upon the law enforcement role being fulfilled at the time, whether it’s searching out narcotics, searching for a person, or apprehending a criminal.
Jax is trained for building and area searches and detecting the odor of narcotics, including methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.
Because of the bond necessary between dog and handler, Foutz is the only officer on the force trained to handle Jax; so if he is off duty, so is the dog, who is kenneled during that time.
Foutz was looking for a short, one syllable name for the German Shepherd which did not resemble any commands and decided on“Jax.”
The dog is 18 months old, mostly black in color, and weighs between 75 and 80 pounds. He has almost reached full size, although he may continue to grow until age two.
Research has shown that a police dog will reflect the personality of the handler who trains him because the handler provides leadership for the dog. “An aggressive, insecure handler will end up with an aggressive and volatile dog, and a confident, considerate officer will have a friendly and controllable dog,” says one study.
When Chief Cook talked with officers at a department meeting about getting a K-9, Officer Foutz asked if he could be considered as its partner, and seemed like the perfect fit for the task.
“Officer Foutz has the right mentality, personality, dedication to service, and professionalism to be our K-9 handler,” said Chief Cook.
Foutz, a graduate of William Byrd High School, has been with the Vinton Department for three years.
In a final step toward activation of the team, Officer Foutz last week picked up the new K-9 unit vehicle from a dealership in Richmond.
“The K-9 car has all the features of a standard patrol vehicle as far as the vehicle itself, lighting packages, consoles and equipment,” said Chief Cook. “The difference is that the car is equipped with a K-9 style cage in lieu of a regular prisoner transport cage, a cooling system, window tinting to keep the car cooler, and a heat alarm that will alert the handler if the interior temperature gets to a certain level.”
Chief Cook requested assistance from the Vinton business community through the Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce in funding the K-9 program and received a very positive response and several donations.
Foutz and Cook introduced Jax to the community after the November 14 Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce State of the Town meeting with a demonstration in the War Memorial parking lot.
“We are very appreciative of the community’s support,” said Cook. “Thanks to area businesses and individuals for helping fund the program.”