The newest member of the UCF Police Department can’t use handcuffs or fire a gun, but he can chase his tail.
Justice is the newest pup on patrol with UCF PD’s K-9 unit. On his first night of active duty, Justice and his partner officer Matt Scott were called in to handle a narcotics case.
On Aug. 5, Scott and Justice were called to the scene of a traffic stop when another UCF PD officer pulled over a woman who had recently been arrested for possession of cocaine, according to the arrest affidavit.
When Scott and Justice arrived, the dog indicated a positive alert on the suspect’s car. Inside, officers found a purple Crown Royal drawstring bag filled with used syringes, a green USB cord used as a tourniquet and an Altoids tin containing 28 plastic bags filled with white and brown powder residue.
A sample from one of the bags was field tested for heroin and yielded a positive result, and the woman was arrested on charges of heroin possession.
Justice and the other K-9s are imperative in making arrests like these.
“That’s the call we want the dogs to be at their highest capacity for,” Scott said.
It was a big night for Justice, who has only been with the department for a few months. After Scott’s previous dog Buster was forced to retire due to medical reasons, Justice was purchased in replacement.
While UCF PD put in 480 hours to train Buster, Justice was purchased already trained from Germany.
It’s not uncommon for police dogs to be trained in Europe, Scott said. In fact, he said for the most part, almost every K-9 in the country is brought in from overseas.
Because of the way he was originally trained, Scott uses German commands to give Justice orders.
The K-9 unit is made up of four teams: Scott and Justice, officer Chris Holt and his dog Jogy, officer Mica Wenner and her dog Samson and Cpl. Charles Reising and his dog Max. Two of the dogs, including Justice, have been trained to handle narcotics cases, while the other two handle explosive detection.
Twice per month, the four teams meet behind the police department for an extensive day of training.
The dogs learn how to do bite work, narcotics detection, tracking and building searches. The officers also train the dogs to be comfortable in many different situations and environments.
“Some of these dogs have never been on tile,” Scott said. “You don’t want a dog freezing up because he’s never been on marble before.”
Reising, the K-9 unit’s leader, said they put the dogs in a variety of different situations to get them used to any scenario that could happen while on patrol.
They take the dogs into the Reflecting Pond to get them used to water, make them climb over fences and take them to the gun range to get them used to the sound of shooting.
The dogs must follow their partners’ commands immediately, or they risk the chance of accidentally hurting someone besides their intended targets.
The dogs are trained to run after a suspect and then, after a command from their partner, to instantly stop the chase and return.
“If another cop or someone else gets close, the dog might key on them. We don’t want the dog to bite on an innocent person,” Reising said.
When they aren’t training, the teams alternate shifts to patrol. Their schedules vary, but they usually work 12-hour shifts for half of the month on alternating days during the week.
Because of the long hours, Scott said he makes sure he keeps a close eye on his partner. He must make sure he stops to give Justice water or a bathroom break so the dog is always ready to jump into action.
“That way, when the time to deploy him comes, he’s doing what he needs to do,” he said.
For Scott and the rest of the K-9 unit, preparing the dogs also includes a lot of petting and praising; they want the dogs to be happy when they come to work.
“You want the dog to be excited,” Scott said. “You want the dog to want to be here.”
Deanna Ferrante is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future.