RIVERSIDE: Police dogs train for copter duty
Few outside the Riverside Police Department have been aware that a 15-year-old tool is part of its law enforcement arsenal.
In 1997, several K-9 handlers and SWAT team operators looked to the future of their tactical capabilities and inaugurated the K-9 Airborne Operation. The program prepares and trains selected canines to accompany SWAT officers when they respond to an incident in a helicopter.
By strapping a K-9 dog to the chest of a SWAT team operator, who tethers himself and rides the skids outside of a helicopter, more procedures became possible, Riverside police Sgt. Pat McCarthy said.
âThe idea was born from the evolution of a remarkably simple idea,â McCarthy said.
He recalled that Guy Toussaint, who then led the SWAT team, suggested the department find a way to take dogs onto helicopters.
With the departmentâs purchase of helicopters nearly 40 years ago, the Metro SWAT team duplicated the U.S. military procedure of riding outside the helicopter for faster deployment.
But to include a K-9 in their operations, new procedures, training and gear would be required.
âBasically, K-9 officer Dave Taylor took the ball and ran with it, eventually developing what we needed to affect what has become our K-9 Airborne Operation,â McCarthy said.
Taylor, a K-9 handler for 15 years and currently a SWAT team member, realized that the dogs would need to be special beyond their normal police-canine designations.
âBasically, I knew that the K-9s chosen to accompany SWAT had to be able to go everywhere we as a team go,â Taylor said.
While normal training included rappelling from the Fire Departmentâs training facility tower, not all dogs are SWAT dogs, Taylor said.
âDogs have fought it during selection exercises,â Taylor said. âTheir depth perception is different from ours and it shows up when you would lift off with the helicopter.â
Currently two K-9âs are SWAT qualified: Chacko, who works with Taylor, and Flash, who is handled by Officer Jeff Barney.
Unlike other law enforcement agencies, such as Los Angeles Police Department K-9s that ride inside helicopters, Riversideâs outside on the skids doesnât require any flying adjustments, Riverside police pilot Dave Mullins said.
âThe landing procedures are more careful, but other than reducing our forward speed while flying, everything else is the same because the officers are balanced while flying on the skids,â Mullins said.
With the K-9 SWAT operator on one side of the helicopter, an officer flying on the opposite skid monitors his teammate and the dog during the flight.
Specifically trained for rapid ground and rooftop landings, McCarthy said that, in the 15-year history of the K-9 Airborne Operation, they have not had to use the dogs in a helicopter operation.
âBut Iâm a firm believer in Murphyâs Law, being capable for the future and continuing to train is everything,â McCarthy said.