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Patrol touts Criminal Patrol Success with opening of new Canine Training Facility Drug violations and weapon violations nearly tripled since 2011

In 2011, State Highway Patrol leadership charged Ohio troopers with elevating the importance of their criminal patrol efforts to the same level as their core responsibility of traffic safety. Troopers were urged to ‘look beyond the license plate’ or the reason for the traffic stop, in an attempt to detect and interdict criminal activity. Since this shift of operational mentality, drug arrests have increased every year, with an increase of 194% since 2011. Troopers have made more than 4,000 arrests for weapon violations and nearly 30,000 felony arrests since 2011.

This shift also brought upon the formal formation of the Criminal Patrol Unit. In 2010, the division had only 14 canines. In the years since, that number has grown to 35 canines around the state.

“With more canines comes more productivity, more success, and that’s one reason why we’ve added more canines,” Capt. Michael Kemmer, who oversees the Patrol’s Criminal Patrol Unit, said. “We were seeing the success of having them on the road. They’re a great tool for our officers.”

Patrol canines go through rigorous training to learn tracking, article searches and drug interdiction, just to name a few. Their handlers go through equally demanding training to learn commands and how to interact with the canines. Both use this training time as an opportunity to bond with one another.

The Patrol began training their own canines in 2015 by holding regional trainings around the state. Before 2015 canines were pre-trained by an independent contractor and then assigned to a trooper. The trooper was then trained alongside the canine to become a handler.

Since 2015, handlers are assigned canines that have no knowledge or training about the job they are going to do - they have no obedience, they don’t know simple sit commands - and this works in the handler’s favor.

“The nice thing about our program is it shows our handlers actually what it takes to train a canine,” Capt. Kemmer said. “It’s a lot more strenuous for them, but it’s a lot more educational.”

In the past, if an officer saw a behavioral issue with their canine, they didn’t know how to retrain or correct the issue on their own. Handlers would often call the contract trainer to resolve the problem. This new program format allows officers the ability to identify and correct any issues they may see in their canine. Continued training and maintenance checks are some of the most important parts of the process, for both the canine and the handler.

In the past three years, Patrol canine trainers have trained 43 canine/handler teams in a total of seven classes.

The natural next step for the criminal patrol program was a centralized canine training facility.

The new canine training facility in Marysville is considered a state of the art facility that Capt. Kemmer believes is going to benefit the organization, as well as the entire state of Ohio. The Patrol will train not only their canines at the facility, but canines for other agencies as well.

The facility has three climate-controlled training buildings: one main building, one for housing canines and one for the actual training.

The first building, or the main building, houses a classroom for students, offices for training sergeants and the lieutenant who oversees the program, dorm room areas and locker rooms for troopers. The dorms give troopers the option to stay at the facility while they are being trained, which will cut down on hotel costs for the division and other agencies sending officers in for training. Housing officers on site will also give them the capability to spend more time bonding with their canine after training hours.

“Before we had the training facility constructed, we were doing regional trainings and with that, our officers would go to an area, they were assigned to a trainer, and they would have to stay for ten weeks away from home in a hotel room” explained Capt. Kemmer.

The second building is a kennel facility with ten runs where the canines are housed. It is equipped with a grooming area, a bathing station and other resources for the canines who are staying there.

The third building is the largest of the three, and is where training and imprinting takes place. This is where the canines are trained on different narcotic and explosive odors, as well as tracking and article search disciplines.

The Patrol’s canine training program is ten weeks long. Trainers secure the canines through a number of vendors, mostly located in Europe. The canines go through a strenuous selection process by the trainers to make sure the division is getting the right product.

“For example, our trainers may go to a vendor and look at 20 dogs to select two for a class,” explained Capt. Kemmer. “They look for different traits; they look for different drives that are in the canine. Play drive, hunt drive, prey drive. Those are all traits they look for in the dog and there’s different testing that they do to determine if that canine has those proper traits.”

The Patrol has to find the right traits in the handlers as well. The Patrol even completes home interviews before we assign canines to officers to make sure the entire family is willing to accept the responsibility.

“To be a successful handler, you’ve got to be dedicated. This is another piece of equipment that they are issued and it brings on a whole other responsibility.” Capt. Kemmer explained.

The handler has to provide care for the dog while it’s at home and while they’re off duty.

“They got to insure that they’re keeping up on training,” continued Capt. Kemmer. “We mandate that they have 24 hours of training per month. It’s very strenuous on top of the fact that there’s expectations that we put on them to work hard. They wear a lot of hats, canine handlers.”

One thing is for sure, the Patrol’s Criminal Patrol Unit – both the handlers and the canines – have disrupted the criminal element in Ohio. They are making a difference every day by removing drugs, weapons and criminals from Ohio communities.

“They prove their worth every day that they’re out there on the street whether it’s during a drug seizure, or a suspect apprehension, or locating a lost child or and elderly person with Alzheimer’s,” said Capt. Kemmer. “They’re just invaluable. They’re an invaluable asset to the division and to the state.”

And the Patrol’s new canine training facility gives the Criminal Patrol Unit one more tool to realize even more success.

In honor of the new training facility, Abby Baughan, a communications intern with the Ohio Department of Public Safety, went for a ride-along and subsequent training with Tpr. Matt Ruth and his canine, Katie. K9 Katie graduated from the Patrol’s canine training in May 2016. Find out what a day in the life of a Patrol canine entails with Baughan’s first-hand account.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF K9 KATIE

By Abby Baughan, December 2018

Follow me along for a day in the life of Ohio State Highway Patrol dual-purpose K9, Katie, and her handler, Tpr. Matt Ruth.

On the morning of October 29, I met Tpr. Ruth and K9 Katie at the West Jefferson Post for a day of shadowing. Upon my arrival, Tpr. Ruth took me inside the post to show me around. He and Katie had just finished seizing marijuana from two individuals who traveled to the west coast, purchased it legally, and then illegally brought it back to Ohio.

Tpr. Ruth showed me the steps that have to take place after drugs, specifically marijuana, are seized. He placed the pre-packaged marijuana in an evidence bag and moved on to entering everything into the computer system.

While Tpr. Ruth was finishing up the technical work, I sat patiently waiting to meet the star of the show. He finished up and took me outside to his Patrol vehicle. He opened up the back door and, on his command, Katie hopped out to greet me. She trotted over to me and I excitedly said, “Hi Katie!” and gave her a pat on the head.

Meeting Katie

Katie is a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois weighing in at just under 50 pounds. She was smaller than I expected, but it didn’t take long to realize that her size pays off when it comes to speed and agility.

Katie showed me some of her impressive obedience commands before we got into their vehicle and headed out on patrol. This gave Tpr. Ruth and me a great opportunity to talk more about Katie as well as his experience as a handler.

Katie and Tpr. Ruth cover all of Columbus District 6, which includes Marion, Morrow, Union, Delaware, Madison, Franklin, Fayette and Pickaway Counties. They commute about an hour each morning to get to work.

The Inspiration

"I first became a canine handler to help be some of the first line of defense in the narcotics flowing into our local communities."

Tpr. Ruth became a handler in 2010, motivated by his desire to be directly involved with criminal interdiction. Katie became his second canine when she was assigned to him in 2017. He was assigned his first dog, Bento, a male Malinois, in 2010. Bento retired in 2017 and now lives at home with Tpr. Ruth, Katie and their family.

"He’s retired from active duty on the Patrol. He basically stays home, plays with the kids and watches the house while I’m at work."

Canines are typically in service for seven to nine years. When the Patrol decides it is time for them to retire, it is very typical for their handlers to take them home as pets. At that point, the handler assumes all responsibility for the dog.

Handlers often find their canines still want to go to work after retirement because, when they were in service, it was their favorite part of the day. Retirement can be a great time to allow canines the chance to be "normal" dogs and be less work-oriented.

The Bond

The bond between Tpr. Ruth and Katie is something truly special. She’s always looking for him and awaiting his next command. This bond is established during training and lasts throughout the canine's lifetime.

Once we got back to the post, Tpr. Ruth had Katie sit outside of his Patrol vehicle so I could get some photos and videos. He stood behind me, and Katie moved her head from one side to other to see around me. She had to keep an eye on him. This type of bond between a handler and canine makes for a trusting relationship that allows them to work together at their full potential.

Before we said our goodbyes for the day, Katie got some time to exercise and play. She played fetch with Tpr. Ruth, running after a red Kong toy attached to a rope. She patiently waited by his side before each toss, and went after the toy with incredible speed and agility as soon as it left his hand. Even during play time, Katie was disciplined and obedient. I was glad to see that play and exercise are incorporated into Katie’s work days.

Training & Maintenance

A couple weeks later, I attended one of Katie’s training sessions. Katie and Tpr. Ruth do regular maintenance checks throughout each month to make sure they are on track. They checked things like traffic stops with and without narcotics, simulated bites, and tracking. Katie tracks paths, and was successfully able to track down items Tpr. Ruth placed in various locations in a large field. It was clear to me in this moment that Katie is extremely determined and work-oriented. She doesn’t give up until she finds what she’s looking for.

"Katie and many of the division’s canines are often called by federal, state and local authorities to assist in situations they have, such as manhunts, robberies, burglaries, or general narcotic sniffs, or just assistance with search warrants as a force multiplier."

It amazed me how far Patrol canines can go in such a short time, and how quickly they learn. The new training program, implemented in 2015, allows canines and handlers to train alongside one another rather than receiving already-trained canines from outside agencies.

By the time she graduated from the Patrol's initial ten week training program, Katie knew everything she needed to know to be a Patrol canine and Tpr. Ruth knew everything he needed to know to be her handler. Now that she has completed training, her monthly maintenance checks allow her to polish her skills and keep improving.

Katie is a happy and healthy canine with a bright future ahead of her. Tpr. Ruth is an experienced handler who understands what it takes to make Katie the best she can be. They make the perfect team.

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