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O’Fallon to host K-9 trials, invites public to watch

Bad guys beware of O’Fallon from June 17-19. The city will be crawling with K-9 units from across the country, as police dogs and their human partners compete in the United States Police Canine Association field trials and certifications.

The city is expecting around 40 dog teams from across Missouri and Illinois to compete and certify their K-9 units in the event, which will be free and open to the public.

O’Fallon Field Training Officer Keith Lewis said that in Missouri, there is no specified state standard requiring that K-9s receive a certification in order to take to the streets, but added that most accredited departments will make it mandatory that their K-9’s have some sort of recognizable certification.

USPCA is not the only K-9 certification organization in the country, but Lewis said O’Fallon uses it because of its demanding certification process.

“As anyone will see when they come out to watch, the certifying K-9s have to adhere to very, very strict guidelines,” Lewis said.

As in real police work, Lewis said there are no do-overs: a K-9 team that fails a trial cannot reattempt that day. Any teams that fail to certify will need to re-train and attempt the test at a later date.

“I don’t want to put dogs out on the street that cannot meet the minimum standards of what is required,” Lewis said.

O’Fallon will have three officers participating in the event.

The trials are geared for patrol dogs – K-9’s that serve multiple functions on the police force. As such, the trials will test several different factors and the handlers’ and dogs’ ability to perform tasks that they would need to complete on the job, all of which must be completed off-leash. On Friday, the competition will start with the obedience trials, which judge how well the dogs follow basic and hand commands.

“If they can’t pass that, they’re not even allowed to go on to the rest of the trials and competition,” Lewis said.

After the obedience trials, the handlers will run their canine partners through agility trial, which is comprised of an obstacle course using objects the dogs would encounter – and need to overcome – in a real patrol environment. Windows, chain-link fences, stairs, a 6-foot tall walkway with a ladder and a broad jump are a few of the obstacles the police dogs will need to surmount.

Starting Saturday morning, the K-9 teams will begin the suspect and article search trials.
“One of the most important things about a police K-9 is his nose,” Lewis said. “Our dogs are locating tools. Yes they have teeth, it goes with the fur, but the primary function of the dog is a locating tool.”

For the first part of the suspect search, the dogs will need to find a suspect hiding in one of six identical white boxes, which are spaced evenly away from each other on a large field. To literally throw the dog off the scent, the event organizers will “heat up” all the boxes by having people spend a few minutes inside them and imprinting the inside of the box with each person’s scent. Then the “bad guy” will hide randomly in one of the boxes, and the dogs will need to locate him by following the freshest odor. The article detection trial consists of the dogs finding by smell two pieces of evidence that have been heated up and tossed into a tall grass field.

On Saturday, June 18, the O’Fallon police department will hold a Family Fun Night from 5-7 p.m., with a special K-9 demonstration at 6 p.m.

Lewis said the police will showcase other talents and abilities of the K-9’s during that demonstration. And, in addition to seeing the K-9’s strut their stuff, the Family Fun Night will also feature the O’Fallon Fire Department, the St. Charles County Paramedics and the St. Charles County Regional Metro SWAT Team as well as other vendors.

Lewis said since the community is a big part of the police officers’ and K-9s’ daily jobs, the USPCA wants to let the public see and interact with the police dogs in person.
“We want the community to understand that police dogs aren’t mean, they aren’t vicious, they don’t hold grudges … these dogs are working because the handlers want them to and these dogs are social,” Lewis said. “We want the public to be aware that these dogs are working for the public, that this is part of their community. These are the resources that the police department has available to their public.”

The event will conclude on Sunday, with trials on criminal apprehension, or “bite work.” The dogs will be tested on various aspects of catching bad guys, from their ability to make a solid bite on a fleeing suspect to their control in stopping pursuit of a suspect mid-chase, on their partner’s orders.

The public demonstration will be held at Fort Zumwalt North High’s football stadium, located at 1230 Tom Ginnever Ave.

The majority of the dog trials will be held at Fort Zumwalt North as well, with the exception of Saturday’s evidence search portion, which will take place across the street at Christian High.

The dog trials will begin around 8 a.m. and will close at 5 p.m., Friday-Sunday, June 17-19.

O’Fallon K-9 patrol handler Thomas Thompson said he’s looking forward to putting on a good show for the other handlers and the trial’s judges. Meeting K-9 officers from across the region will also be fun, Thompson said. He said that police always have a bond with other officers from other departments and regions, and added that K-9 officers have an extra connection with their counterparts from other areas in the form of their four-legged partners.

Thompson’s dog, Ares, is the senior dog on O’Fallon’s police force, and does both patrol and detection work. In the trials, Thompson said Ares’ specialty is apprehension and bite work. “That’s kind of our bread and butter,” Thompson said.

The certifications also double as a competition, Thompson said, and he and Ares will be looking win some victories for their department.

“Yes you are going to certify your dog … but to make it [more fun], and to add some more stress to it, they make it a competition as well, so you can walk away with trophies,” he said. “The Illinois guys always complain that we come over and take all their trophies. So we’ll give them a chance to come back and take our trophies.”

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