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K-9s put their specialized skills to use while assisting police

Residents may be familiar with Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers throughout the valley, but there are some lesser-known employees – the four-legged ones – that play a vital role in the organization.

The K-9 unit was this month’s topic of conversation during the 1st Tuesday event July 3, which is designed to educate residents on certain sections of the department. Sam Carrillo, an officer in the K-9 unit, spoke to about 20 residents at the Downtown Area Command, 621 N. Ninth St., on the importance of having trained patrol dogs and safety precautions residents should take in various situations involving these canines.

"My main thing was to emphasize what to do (in certain situations)," Carrillo said. "We mostly wanted to relay our message about the safety of the citizens … That was my main purpose."

Carrillo, who has worked in the department’s K-9 unit for five years, brought along Radar, a Belgian m alinois, who lives and works with him around the clock. Radar is one of the department’s 20 patrol dogs that work 10-hour shifts doing building, evidence or open-area searches, human remains detections and search-and-rescue missions, among other duties.

Carrillo said these canines are often used in suspect searches, which he presented as an example to residents regarding how to stay safe should they happen to experience one of these situations. Carrillo said if a suspect is hiding in a house, officers will keep their sirens and lights going to let him know they are still in the area. Residents in the area are advised to stay inside the house and bring pets in, turn out patio lights and be aware of where spare sets of keys are located.

"A lot of people don’t think about where their extra keys are," Carrillo said. "Know where the keys are to your back door, your front door."

Carrillo explained that in addition to patrol dogs, the unit also consists of detection dogs, 11 trained in searching for narcotics and six trained for explosive device searches. He said narcotics dogs are trained to seek out cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine when conducting a search in a business, a residence or a car on a search warrant. In the future, he said, these dogs may be trained to detect pain medications, such as oxycodone.

Though these dogs live in the officers’ residences with their families and work with them throughout the day, Carrillo said as service animals, they differ from other canines.

"They’re not a pet," Carrillo said. "They’re not sitting on the couch or lounging on the floor. For the most part, they’re outside. Growing up, they’re kept outside, and they’re used to that."

Radar, in particular, came to Carrillo in 2008 from a breeder in Europe and without obedience training. Carrillo said training typically lasts three months, but to develop the canine’s skills, he does a short training session with Radar regularly.

"I do training every single night with the dog, and it’s always something different," Carrillo said. "It might be obedience training, search training, gunfire … Radar also loves tennis balls, and he has to work for them. For two, three times a week, I’ll throw the tennis ball with him. That way, he gets exercise and his favorite thing in the world."

Because most of these dogs come from European breeders, notably those in Germany, they understand German commands. Carrillo said Radar knows and understands only his handler’s voice tones.

Carrillo said the K-9 unit is an ideal topic for the 1st Tuesday event because people are interested in how officers work with dogs on a daily basis. Las Vegas resident Doris Fortier is one of these people.

"I wanted to learn a little more about the K-9 unit and the purpose of the department," said Fortier, who often volunteers with the police department. "If I can, I like to contribute and learn about the various responsibilities of the officers so I can ask questions."

For more information on the K-9 unit, call 828-3441 or visit lvmpdk9.com.

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Lisa Carter at lcarter@viewnews.com or 383-4686.

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