During the Oro Valley Police Department Citizen Academy, Officer Mike Warren demonstrates an attack with his dog, Emerson. Officer Mike Gaare wears the protective bite suit.

Randy Metcalf/The Explorer

When people need help they call the police. When the police need help, they call on the SWAT team. When SWAT needs help, they call in the K-9 unit.

This was a common concept quoted by officers during the fourth week of the Oro Valley Police Department’s Citizen Academy on Oct. 4.

With a certain level of affection, members of the department’s K-9 unit spoke fondly about their four-legged partners. They smiled as they talked about their personalities and were proud to talk about how they found them.

But, the officers were clear on one thing – at the end of the day, these dogs have a job to do.

With national certifications, the animals are trained to search for narcotics, seek out bombs and, most importantly, protect the handler at all costs.

In a series of exercises, the 30 students of the academy saw the canine named Lara sniff out a component of an explosive hidden in a nearby filing cabinet. Knowing she completed the task at hand, Lara sat waiting patiently for handler, Officer Brian Marvin, to throw her a ball for a reward.

With a price tag of $10,500, Lara is a new addition to the OVPD, and is now the resident expert in explosives. Lara, 3, is trained to alert her handler if she suspects anything from C-4 and ammo, to black powder, dynamite and boosters.

Emerson and Nikko round out the department’s K-9 unit as expert drug dogs.

Drug dogs are all about the odors, alerting handlers when they smell marijuana, methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine. In some cases, the dogs can sniff out prescription drugs.

Nikko’s handler, Officer Roger Reynolds, said drugs are fluent in Oro Valley. While marijuana and meth are found the most, they also find heroin. When it comes to older residents, cocaine is the common drug used.

Cocaine users are primarily found in residents who are 40 and over, Reynolds said. All ages use meth, marijuana and heroin.

While effective in seeking out drugs, Nikko and Emerson can also be useful in catching the bad guys, clocking in at a speed of 28 miles per hour.

If the handler is in danger, the dogs don’t need a command; they will attack a suspect. If someone is running from the police, or refuses to evacuate a vehicle or structure, a specific command will allow the dog to go in.

In some cases, to apprehend the subject, the dogs do bite.

After the Oct. 4 presentation, it was apparent that no one wants to be bitten by Nikko, a very large German Shepherd.

The police currently have three K-9 officers, continuing a program that started with Rolf, the Rotweiler, in 1987.

Oro Valley police train the K-9 officers, with one eight-hour shift per week being dedicated to training. The national standard is 16 hours per month.

The animals live with their handlers, and when retired, either stays with the officer, or a proper home is found.

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