K9 Unit

The Summerville Police Department takes great pride in its K-9 Unit because of the proficiency, ability and utility of the animals working in partnership with their handlers. Our K-9 Teams answer a high volume of special calls for service on a daily basis.

The Summerville Police Department takes great pride in its K-9 Unit. The unit is currently comprised of 4 dual purpose patrol dogs and 1 single purpose narcotics dog. Our K-9 Teams answer a high volume of special calls for service on a daily basis. These K-9 calls range from tracking armed and dangerous suspects to conducting demonstrations at local schools and nursing homes. The SPD K-9 Unit prides itself on having highly sociable dogs that are capable of adjusting to a multitude of situations and surroundings. Due to the unit’s proficiency, it is not uncommon for our teams to be called upon to assist other neighboring Local, State and Federal Law Enforcement Agencies throughout the Lowcountry. With the Town of Summerville being located in three different county jurisdictions, we are able to improve the response to incidents, while increasing the capability and proficiency of each requesting agency with the extension of our dogs.

 Department K9 History

Established in 1988, our department began the unit with a Chocolate Labrador Retriever, named "King", donated by the Sertoma Club of Summerville. After King’s handler, now Major Frank Nigro, retired him, the department authorized three officers to purchase their own police dogs and have them formally trained and certified. These three original teams have now grown into a four Nationally Certified Multi-Purpose Utility K-9 Patrol Teams. Multipurpose title describes the team’s ability for patrol dog work and be multifaceted. This title encompasses Tracking, Trailing, Article Recovery, Building Searches, Agility, Obedience, Handler Protection and Narcotic Detection teams effectively utilizing their skills and capabilities. This growth in size of this unit directly credited to the success each of the K-9 Teams. The Summerville Police Department’s K-9 Units specialize in locating and capturing suspects of violent crimes such as rape and armed robbery. Each team also stays conducts vehicle and residential searches in an effort to sniff out the odor of illegal narcotics and contraband. These dogs also specialize in protecting their handlers from attack, while searching buildings and tracking fleeing suspects in wooded areas. These teams are often called upon to aid in the searches for locating missing children and adults such as senior citizens that are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Dementia who may have wondered away from their nursing homes.

Summerville Police Department's K-9 Unit enjoys a great reputation throughout the area based on the successes they have achieved. Our department, in partnership with our community, takes a stand against illicit drugs, because we know that roughly 70% of all property crimes are the result of the use and abuse of drugs.

Training the handler is as important as training the dog. Our goal is to have our handlers retain as much information as possible, work with the dog continually building trust so that each knows what the other will do. Remaining current with the law is just as important as knowing how to handle the dog.

Officer Candidates for Police K-9 Handler Positions must as a general rule is a proactive patrol officer, who demonstrates a high level of proficiency in all departmental policies and procedures. They must also possess many personality traits such as; the appropriate demeanor, a predilection for working with animals, a professional bearing, intelligence and excellent communication skills before being chosen for this endeavor. The responsibility and demands are overwhelming as these officers have to maintain these animals both on and off duty as they have to be fed, groomed and provided with all appropriate care. All of our dogs live with their handlers enabling them to build a strong bond in addition to making the dogs more sociable by residing with the handler and his or her family.

Record keeping is also important as handlers must be able to document and account for all that the dog has done in the course of a shift. Incident reports, training reports, medical records and costs must all be documented and kept by that handler and the unit’s supervisor. This is a responsibility that cannot be overlooked. Our K-9 Teams are certified in a annual process by the North American Police Working Dog Association. Each team must be certified in its area of specialty and can also choose to be certified in the following areas; Narcotics Detection, Agility, Obedience, Article Recovery, Handler Protection, Trailing, Tracking, Building Searches, and Aggression Control.

K-9 'King'

Summerville's first K-9

K-9 'Cora'

K-9 'Panto'

K-9 'Pico'

K-9 'Ronin'

 K9 Functions & Duties

Our department currently has four working police K-9 teams. All four of these teams are trained and certified as "Dual-Purpose" working canines. We take great pride in all our dogs. They are well trained, sociable and respond well to the handler's every command. Our teams are a wonderful public relations tool. They frequently conduct public demonstrations at our schools, daycare centers, hospitals, civic organizations, churches and other public functions.

 Breeds of Working Police Dogs

The Summerville Police Department utilizes two prominent breeds of working dogs. They are the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd. The most popular breed of police dog is the well known German Shepherd, a 200 year old breed in the herding class of working dogs. These dogs have long been used by militaries all over the world as sentries and were used by the United States and Germany in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In the 1950s, law enforcement began using German Shepherds for crowd control. As time progressed, the negative portrayal broadcast during this era led to new standards and levels of training for the canine and the handler. Today, German Shepherds remain the most popular breed of police canines in service around the world as they are most well known for their size, keen intelligence and work ethic.

As previously mentioned, we have one Belgian Malinois in service here at the Summerville Police Department. The Belgian Malinois (pronounced Mal-In-Waw) is a smaller, sleeker version of a German Shepherd. These animals are all imported from Holland, where they are primarily used for sheep herding. They are hard working dogs with a high level of endurance, noted for their speed and agility. This 135 year old breed is noted for its intelligence and high intensity nature. The Malinois breed is becoming more popular in law enforcement as its reputation spreads. Today, it is the second most popular breed of canine in service in the United States.

In the past we have had the pleasure of having Labrador Retriever’s in service. The Labrador Retriever’s is so named because of their unique ability to retrieve fish or game that has been hunted or caught. These dogs are very intelligent and maintain a high level of obedience and intensity. They are very popular choices for agencies searching for non-aggressive or passive dogs to work in a single-purpose capacity. Labs are very effective and well loved by everyone. Many people identify with the Labs since it is a popular breed of domestic pet. There are two ways that police canines are trained to alert to the odor of their specialty. The first way is called a "passive alert" or indication, common among explosive detection canines and narcotic detection canines where a non-aggressive response is preferred. Utilizing this method, a canine sits when it smells the odor that it is trained to detect. The common indication for explosive detection canines is by passive alert, for obvious reasons. The sudden jarring or impact of the explosives could cause a detonation.

The second way that a police canine is trained to indicate is called an "aggressive alert." This type of alert is the most common among dual-purpose utility police canines as the dog is trained to show indication by vigorously scratching and barking at an item that contains the odor of the substance of the dog's specialty. The most popular specialty for aggressive alert dogs is narcotic detection. This enables the dog to more closely indicate where the hidden or concealed substance is located.

 Training & Certifications

Members of the Summerville Police K-9 Unit train together every Tuesday with other police and sheriff's department's K-9 Units from the Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester County area. Our unit trains every week for a minimum of 8 hours, or 32 hours a month. Constant training ensures that both the dogs and their handlers work as a unit allowing for trouble shooting in order to fix any potential problems they may have. Dogs are much like humans, in that they learn acts and behaviors by repetition. The more the teams work together, the more proficient they become and the better they perform in the field. We train on every possible scenario imaginable so that the teams will know how to handle them if they encounter them on duty.

Training the handler is as important as training the dog. Our goal is to have our handlers retain as much information as possible, work with the dog continually building trust so that each knows what the other will do. Remaining current with the law is just as important as knowing how to handle the dog.

Officer Candidates for Police K-9 Handler Positions must as a general rule is a proactive patrol officer, who demonstrates a high level of proficiency in all departmental policies and procedures. They must also possess many personality traits such as; the appropriate demeanor, a predilection for working with animals, a professional bearing, intelligence and excellent communication skills before being chosen for this endeavor. The responsibility and demands are overwhelming as these officers have to maintain these animals both on and off duty as they have to be fed, groomed and provided with all appropriate care. All of our dogs live with their handlers enabling them to build a strong bond in addition to making the dogs more sociable by residing with the handler and his or her family.

Record keeping is also important as handlers must be able to document and account for all that the dog has done in the course of a shift. Incident reports, training reports, medical records and costs must all be documented and kept by that handler and the unit’s supervisor. This is a responsibility that cannot be overlooked. Our K-9 Teams are certified in a annual process by the North American Police Working Dog Association. Each team must be certified in its area of specialty and can also choose to be certified in the following areas; Narcotics Detection, Agility, Obedience, Article Recovery, Handler Protection, Trailing, Tracking, Building Searches, and Aggression Control.

 K9 Team Equipment

Each K-9 Team is outfitted with the basic equipment as required based on the dog's specialty. Leather leashes, nylon harnesses and tracking leads are most popular. Each animal has a “German Steel” correction collar and its own badge proudly worn when it is on duty. They are also equipped with a lightweight state of the art bullet proof vest donated by the community. These vests are worn only in high risk situations where our dog would be sent into harm's way to apprehend a potentially armed and dangerous suspect.

Each of our team member’s vehicles is equipped with a special aluminum insert that is molded to accommodate and protect both the dogs and the vehicle from being harmed. These inserts are easy to wash and keep clean. A rubber mat on the floor protects the dogs. There are steel screens on the windows to prevent an unknowing citizen from being bitten or from harming the dogs. We have installed a special K-9 “Cooling Alarm System” consisting of an industrial fan installed in the window to cool the dog in cases of extreme heat and to keep the air circulating. The fan is wired to an alarm system that will sound the horn if the vehicle gets too hot for the dog. The windows will be automatically lowered and the fan will turn on. The cars are also outfitted with a "K-9 Door Popper" that, when activated by a button on the officer's belt; opens the door on the cruiser and allows the dog to aid the officer. The range on this transmitter is up to 1000 feet. The community is very proud of the Summerville Police Department and its K-9 Unit.

 Retired & Fallen SPD K9s