K9 Team

K9 Jessie and Officer Romero of the Atherton Police Department Canine Unit was created to help the department with its primary function, the preservation of life and property. The Canine Unit assists in achieving this goal by promoting an atmosphere of service and safety in the community, utilizing canines in general and specialized patrol to enhance crime prevention, crime suppression, criminal investigation, and Police Officer/Citizen protection.

A particularly unique, challenging, and useful position, K-9 handlers are very carefully chosen, because this assignment is a commitment to a highly trained animal, as well as to the police department and community. Police dogs are imported from other countries, such as Denmark and Germany. Atherton Police utilize German Shepherd dogs. The personality of the handler must be paired with that of the dog, and highly qualified trainers of police service dogs assist the department in this process. Then, the handler and his/her new partner train together for several weeks, then several hours each week for the rest of the time that dog works for the police department. The patrol cars are specially designed and modified for the comfort and safety of these dogs.


The officers must learn to speak a considerable vocabulary of words in the language of the dog’s country of origin. Most of the police dogs in the US come here with 2-3 years of intensive training, and most bring working dog titles, which reflect their high degree of training in disciplines such as scent detection, narcotic detection, searching for humans, etc. There are even police dogs trained to detect explosive devices, and to search for people who are deceased.

In Atherton, the police department is very grateful to specific residents who have come forward and donated funds to purchase our police dogs, to buy and set up the K-9 vehicles, and to pay for expenses such as high-quality canine food, veterinary care, and the tools and equipment used for K-9 training. While many of these citizens have requested to remain confidential, the police department will never forget their generosity and support of this important part of our department.

It is also important to note that surrounding communities often request the use of our K-9 teams to assist in searches of buildings and locations, so that dangerous suspects are apprehended quickly and safely. If often takes a trained K-9 team only minutes to check a building or large open area for suspects, where it might take hours and a host of officers to safely contain an area long enough to do a thorough search without the dogs. The dog’s nose can discern scent some 200-300 times better than a human. The trainers tells us, for example, that if we smell a good stew cooking on the stove, a police dog can differentiate the scent of the meat, the potatoes, the vegetables, and the broth!

Even when the K-9 teams are not being used to search for suspects, they are a great partner to have as backup on a car stop, or any other call involving a person who may not want to cooperate with the police. It is always amazing that when the K-9 team arrives, the suspects tend to become very cooperative, and they seldom try to run or hide from the officers.

History of Police Canines

canine history photo

History of Police Canines around the World

They are among the most loyal and steadfast officers of any police force. They are highly trained and immensely dedicated. And they are usually the only police officers that are routinely called “adorable.” They are the four-legged officers of the K-9 unit, and whether they are searching for missing children or sniffing out suspicious packages, they are part of a longstanding tradition that extends back thousands of years.

Dogs have been working alongside mankind since they were first domesticated as much as 15,000 years ago. The first recorded use of dogs doing police work was in St. Malo, France in the early 14th century, when they were used to guard dock installations. But it was not until 1888 until the modern police dog first came into being. It was at that time when the London Metropolitan Police Force first used two bloodhounds to track suspects by scent as part of the infamous Jack the Ripper investigation. The Ripper was never apprehended, but the use of dogs as part of the Met continued.

In the United States, police dogs once had the reputation as attack dogs. This is largely because dog were first employed by American law enforcement in riot control situations. Anyone who has seen a German Shepherd in attack mode can attest to the fact that the deep growl and those large incisors can be quite effective as an attitude adjuster.

But in truth, the duties of most K-9 officers generally intend to be much less belligerent. They are often used to search for drugs, weapons, and explosives. Some dogs also fulfill roles in arson investigation, using their highly sensitive noses to locate chemical fire accelerant. Still others are trained specifically as cadaver dogs, and its their job to locate the decomposing remains of accident and murder victims.

Because of their more sophisticated roles in day-to-day police work, K-9 officers undergo training that is in many ways more intense and rigorous than the training received by human officers. Often, this training begins not long after they are separated from their mothers. A police dog is teamed with a human handler, and the dog and the officer will work as a team. To forge a bond between dog and handler, the police dog usually lives with his officer’s family. This not only encourages loyalty, but it helps to ensure the dog remains friendly and sociable.

What most civilians don’t realize is that K-9 are truly considered full-fledged police officers. Assaulting, injuring, or killing a K-9 carries the same punishment under the law as the same crimes committed against human officers. In fact, some law enforcement agencies consider it acceptable for human officers to open fire on a suspect that is intentionally hurting a police dog with the intent to kill it. Dogs killed in the line of duty are afforded a complete police funeral, bagpipes and all.

While many civilians think that the ballistic vests and badges often seen on K-9 are merely cute, the fact is that these dogs are both needed and respected by their handlers and other members of their force. Something to keep in mind next time you’re scratching one of these officers between the ears.