By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo’s K-9 police and their handlers are required by federal law to spend 16 hours each month honing their abilities tracking, drug detecting and bomb detecting, as well as their agility and apprehension – or biting.
Officer Walter Wilkerson said, much like an officer’s gun, the dog’s bite is a last resort. And also like an officer’s gun, the dog’s bite has to be well-trained so it is not misused.
“Having a dog that will apprehend someone is mainly used to protect life and property,” Wilkerson said. “We pride ourselves in being able to have the dog and not have to use it. Most people are scared to death of the dog.”
The way officers train the dogs to catch someone is by practicing on themselves, making a bite suit a handy piece of equipment.
Sean Wilbourn of Grenada donated his bite suit to the Tupelo Police Department in April after the death of his K-9 partner, Iwan.
The suit, which costs about $1,000, replaces an eight-year-old training suit used by the Tupelo Police Department’s K-9 unit.
Sgt. Terry Morgan said they will honor Iwan by putting the suit to good use training Iron, their newest dual purpose drug and patrol K-9.
The K-9 officers have three different specialties – drugs, bombs and patrols. Patrol dogs are trained in apprehension.
Wilkerson and Morgan practiced apprehension this week with Wilkerson’s K-9 partner, Pele.
As soon as Wilkerson gives the command, Pele shoots off toward the suspect, who in this case is Sgt. Morgan in a bite suit.
“My dog is going to bite the closest thing he can get to,” Wilkerson said. “If you have your arms pulled in to where he can’t get them, he’s going to bite the back of your leg or the closest thing he can get.”
Wilkerson said the dogs train with the suit but officers will cover it with a sheet or hide behind an obstacle so the dog is trained to apprehend the suspect and not the suit.
“The only time (a suspect) is going to get bit is if they don’t comply,” he said. “If someone has broken into a business or home and we catch them and they do what we tell them – stop and put their hands up – we’re not going to send the dog. If they come out and have a gun or run and don’t stop when we tell them to, then by all means we’re going to send the dog because I don’t know where they’re going. They could bust into your house and now I’ve got a hostage situation.”
The bite suit is just one of the many parts of the K-9 officers’ extensive training.