The Reading Police Department recently welcomed two new members to its K-9 Unit. Officer Raymond Acevedo with K-9 Blue and Officer Ross Heckler with K-9 Chase will be training over the next weeks before graduating to the streets.
K-9s are an essential part of a police force. They can detect things that no human can. Without them and their keen sense of smell, the department wouldn’t be able to detect different explosives or narcotics.
The Reading Police Department K-9 unit kennel is located next to Reading Regional Airport, using buildings formerly used for prisoners of war. The large property and two buildings are used for storage/office, agility training and to house the dogs when their handlers are away.
“We’re fortunate to have this because other units don’t have something like this. We’d like to keep this place updated. Most of the equipment here, we have gotten through grants and the Friends of the Reading K-9 Unit–they really help us out,” Officer Joshua Faust said while walking the training grounds.
The unit starts working with their dogs when they’re around 1.5-2 years old. During this time, the dogs do basic training with their handlers every day for 3.5 months. Once they graduate, the handlers continue to advance their dog’s skills–the training is never really finished. There’s always a new skill to learn.
Faust says each dog learns at their own pace. One of the most crucial things handlers have to know is not to compare their dog to another because they’re two completely different dogs. It doesn’t matter if the dogs have experience or have just graduated, every situation is unique. One dog may be excellent at tracking, and another may be well-trained in obedience.
“It’s huge having this building because we are out here for 3.5 months for the basic training program. We use buildings throughout the city and the county, but we’re here basically every day”, said Faust.
Chase and Blue are the newest members of the squad. The two will eventually become narcotics dogs, but until then, they will be trained by Heckler and Avecedo. By working with their handlers, the dogs will become efficient tools in helping recover narcotics, and missing persons, finding evidence, attacking criminals, and detecting explosives.
“In other words, they’re smelling an odor that doesn’t belong there. They have to detect what doesn’t belong in the building. When they locate the odor, the ball is their reward. They relate the smell to getting rewarded,” Faust said, explaining what is involved in training police dogs.
When dogs are selected, they typically have a hunt drive and know how to bite. They are worked with before being purchased by their breeders. Heckler’s dog, Chase, was taught a bit of obedience; he learned very quickly like he already knew what he was doing. Avecedo’s dog, Blue, was the complete opposite, but he’s still learning the ropes!
“They work with them over in Europe. They work on their bite to get them to have a little grip. They also hunt with them; they throw stuff out for them to retrieve”, Faust explained.
When it comes to being a handler, officers must undergo a selection process. This process involves a physical test, an oral interview, and a home visit to check their surroundings. Officers are asked a lot of questions, and they’re also encouraged to ask any questions that they have. From there, they’re put on a list based on seniority.
“Working in the K-9 unit is something that I’ve always wanted to do”, Avecedo said about being in the unit. “I knew I always wanted to work with a dog in some way, shape, or form, so when the opportunity presented itself, I took it!”
“It’s a dream come true”, Heckler said about entering his new role. “It’s something I’ve been anticipating for a long time! Officer Faust’s work with the K9s and the dogs’ work is admirable.”
Finishing the tour of the training grounds, Faust explained how much the nonprofit, Friends of the Reading K-9 Unit, has helped support the unit. In the past few years, the organization has held several fundraising events, provided equipment for handlers and paid for additional training: readingpolicek9s.org.