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Behind the scenes of K-9 training in Chula Vista

k-9 training behind the scenes
k-9s chilling at training
Posted at 10:25 PM, Sep 22, 2023

CHULA VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) — Considering the fact law enforcement dogs have made headlines recently, ABC 10News wanted to observe the work that goes into getting K-9s ready to respond, and what role they play within local police departments.

"It's really important that our community understands why we have K-9s and what the value is of these K-9s," Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy told ABC 10News.

Kennedy says her department's dogs are used for de-escalation tactics and as a resource to save lives.

ABC 10News anchor Kimberly Hunt spent the day in the South Bay earlier this week, as multiple agencies from all over San Diego and Imperial County teamed up for weekly training of the K-9 teams.

The teams simulated real-life scenarios. K-9 officers and their handlers practiced procedures, movements and commands.

"Police! Show me your hands right now — you are under arrest... Get on the ground or you'll be bitten by a police dog," a handler shouted during the training. "Chico... open, open... Good boy!"

The simulations develop teamwork, discipline and automatic performance of duty under difficult circumstances. The goal is to train consistently until the responses are instinctive.

"And there's a lot of policy and procedures that go into play on how and when to utilize a K-9," Kennedy says. "It's just not something that the officers just say, 'Hey, well, here, let's go deploy the K-9.'"

The teams that attended the training included patrol dogs, SWAT dogs and dogs used to detect drugs, cash and guns.

"They hear the dog barking — people give up, and that's what the goal is, right?" Kennedy says.

Unlike most other options of force, a K-9 can be called back once deployed.

Through all the shouting and gunfire, it's evident the bond between the officers and their dogs runs deep.

CVPD officer Shane Coleman and K-9 Jason are connected in a special way. Jason is named after a fellow officer who died of cancer in 2019: Jason Cunningham.

"It's a bond that is something that I've never seen in law enforcement," Chief Kennedy says.

Working together, coming home, feeding, grooming and exercising the K-9s means handlers often spend more time with their dogs than family and friends.

Two words the officers use to describe their K-9 partners are courage and loyalty.

"Every day at work, he knows and I know that he's willing to lay his life down for me," Coleman says.

This reality rocked the whole K-9 unit to its core, when in early August, K-9 Sir of the San Diego Police Department was shot and killed in the line of duty.

"When that dog was killed, many people's heart were broken without a doubt," Chief Kennedy says.

Another K-9 headline making the rounds came from the East Coast.

When convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante escaped from prison in Pennsylvania earlier this month, an elite tactical team with the Border Patrol was among the federal agencies brought in to assist state authorities.

Cavalcante had hidden for almost two weeks in the dense woods near Philadelphia. A member of the tactical squad turned out to be the first to encounter the escapee, subduing him so other agents could take the criminal's loaded rifle.

The agent credited with the take down was Yoda, the Border Patrol's 4-year-old Belgian Malinois.

This served as a reminder of the mentality many K-9s carry while confronting high-stakes scenarios: Do or do not, there is no try.

K-9s are a resource for law enforcement that isn't included in their budgets. Departments, including Chula Vista's, get their dogs through donations.

The Chula Vista Police Foundation is hosting a fundraiser Saturday night, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center.

You can learn more about the event and other fundraising efforts here.