■ By Trevor Montgomery / Contributed
Many people driving along State Street and Stetson Avenue in the city of Hemet Aug. 16 noticed what appeared to be a major incident happening at the old Kmart shopping center. They were pleasantly surprised to hear that the influx of sheriff’s patrol vehicles and K-9 handlers was not related to the War on Crime, but simply a scheduled day of training for Riverside County Sheriff’s K-9 handlers and their K-9 companions.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s K-9 Team, which comprises 28 deputies and their K-9 companions, features patrol service dogs with a variety of search and apprehension capabilities.
The skills and abilities the dogs and their handlers have learned require constant training to maintain, improve and progress.
The department has 16 dual-purpose K-9 teams whose primary goal is to combat crime and keep citizens and law enforcement officers safe.
These dual-purpose teams are trained to apprehend dangerous criminals and detect hidden narcotics. The teams cover the areas of Blythe, Cabazon, Hemet, Indio, Jurupa, Lake Elsinore, and Perris, and the contract cities of Moreno Valley, Palm Desert, San Jacinto and Temecula.
The K-9 teams are primarily composed of two breeds – Belgian Malinois and German or Dutch shepherds – which patrol their assigned areas and are often called upon not only within Riverside County but other counties as well to apprehend suspects who are potentially too dangerous to apprehend without risking significant injury to the officers.
The team also employs the use of two tracking bloodhounds, which are frequently used by other allied law enforcement agencies throughout the state to locate fleeing felons, lost hikers and missing persons, including at-risk juveniles.
The department’s Hazardous Device Team features two explosive detection patrol service dogs. With their incredible, inherent ability to smell things beyond normal, human detection, these dogs are used to detect and locate chemical compounds used as explosives.
Bloodhounds have been instrumental in helping Hazardous Device Team members locate suspected terrorists, criminals and others in possession of dangerous weapons and potentially explosive ordnance.
The department also has two patrol service dogs that work within the county’s correctional system. The jail-based K-9’s have been instrumental in locating illegal narcotics, cell phones, tobacco, and intoxicants made by inmates inside the jail facilities.
These K-9 teams excel not only because of the dog’s abilities, but also due to the dedication of their handlers and the constant monthly training the Sheriff’s Department requires them to undergo.
According to sheriff’s officials, these teams are essential to patrol and jail operations and save about 1,000 man hours per team, per year and are “absolutely irreplaceable.”