Real-life training keeps dogs and officers alive in dangerous situations

Canine handlers run through the paces of real-life scenarios

By Terry LehrkeNews Editor

Canine trainer Jason Buck, left, of Brooklyn Park, is a canine handler himself. He and other trainers worked with law enforcement canine handlers and their dogs Friday - Sunday, Sept. 13 - 15, in Little Falls, mainly at Camp Ripley facilities. Pictured with Buck are Little Falls Police Officer Jon West and his canine, Lesan, as they ready for the instructions from Buck.

Canine trainer Jason Buck, left, of Brooklyn Park, is a canine handler himself. He and other trainers worked with law enforcement canine handlers and their dogs Friday – Sunday, Sept. 13 – 15, in Little Falls, mainly at Camp Ripley facilities. Pictured with Buck are Little Falls Police Officer Jon West and his canine, Lesan, as they ready for the instructions from Buck.

For three days, 35 canine handlers from 25 different law enforcement agencies trained in Little Falls — most of the time at Camp Ripley’s facilities.

The officers are all members of the United States Police Canine Association, Region 12. They came from as far away as Winnipeg, Manitoba and Brandon, Canada, from across Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Little Falls Police Officer Jon West and his canine partner, Lesan, as well as deputies from the Morrison County Sheriff’s Department, Dan Rocheleau and his canine, Benny, and Dave Scherping and his canine, Rocky, took part.

In fact, West arranged the training exercise setting up the timing and accommodations at Camp Ripley, where the officers stayed for two nights and ate their meals during the 35-plus hours of training.

The officers and their dogs are all formally trained for the job, but during this training, real-life scenarios experienced by different officers were set up, so officers could share what they learned with each other. In addition, tactics were taught to the canine handlers to prepare them mentally and physically to ensure their safety and that of their animal.

In addition to some basic work with the dogs to help them maintain steady control of a suspect, the officers and canines spent time at the Combined Arms Collective Training Facility (CACTF) at Camp Ripley. They entered the buildings to locate suspects and spent time in the field tracking suspects through different terrains, such as wooded areas, high grass, thick woods and swamps.

“Lots of times we go after people and a lot of times we are up to our waist in water,” said West of the duties of officers. “It’s the most dangerous job in law enforcement. You’re sending a two-man team into a situation where they’re not sure if the suspect is armed, and after people who are dangerous and have committed violent and heinous crimes against other people.”

The officers and their dogs also spent time at the Little Falls Community Middle School, where narcotics and “masking odors” had been planted in vehicles and other places and the hunt was on for the narcotics. Using masking odors, just as suspects would, the officers taught the dogs how to ignore those and go straight for the narcotics.

West said the primary focus of the training was to reinforce the use of law enforcement tactics and safety practices for the officer and others present, while utilizing the dogs.

The scenarios, said West, were based strictly on being out in the street. “Working on how to stay alive in different scenarios by utilizing tactics and safety,” said West. “Our number one goal and priority is to stay alive by using tactics.”

West said the facilities at Camp Ripley are “absolutely phenomenal.”

The facilities are used by the military, law enforcement, Homeland Security, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, State Patrol, FBI and more.

West said the Little Falls Police Department and Morrison County Sheriff’s Office have “A great working relationship with Camp Ripley. We work together with Camp Ripley in the event of some sort of high risk situations” since Morrison County has jurisdiction at Camp Ripley.

“When you get that many canine handlers together, it’s a great opportunity to pick each other’s brains,” said West. “Each handler does things in different ways and shares their experiences and different training styles.”

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