The Tucson Police Department Service Dog unit consists of nine police officers (dog handlers) and one supervisor. All the dogs in the unit are dual-purpose German Shepard males. The K-9 teams all work on the streets of Tucson in a support role for uniformed patrol officers. The teams conduct area and building searches for hidden criminals. They also search for lost people and provide officer protection in potentially violent encounters. The teams work an evening shift and there are teams on the streets every night. On the radio, each K-9 team is identified by a designator, “SAM” unit. (S1 through S11) Each team is also available for 24 hour callout if a situation arises when there are no dog teams on duty. Each handler takes his partner home along with their assigned car. The dogs are sociable and enjoy many things that a pet dog would. All dogs are certified for patrol work and their other specialty through the National Police Canine Association (NPCA) and each officer in the unit is a proud member of ALECA (Arizona Law Enforcement Canine Association).
The unit also provides more specialized support in the areas of narcotic or explosive detection. Currently, there are three teams that work in narcotic detection. The narcotic dog teams are able to search buildings or vehicles in an effort to locate any illegal drug that may be hidden. They do this service in support of uniform patrol, undercover agents, and various narcotic task forces. Narcotic dogs can be passive alert dogs or aggressive alert dogs. A passive alert dog will sit at the location he finds a substance while aggressive alert dogs will bite, scratch and bark at the area. Detection work is similar to a game for the dog as he believes he is actually searching for his reward (toy, praise) instead of actually finding drugs. Through training the dogs associate the odor of narcotics with a reward.
Since the tragedy of 9/11 and the increased awareness of terrorism in this country, police have changed tactics and looked for various ways to assist in combating terrorists. The explosive detection dog is one of these tools. These dogs are taught to search areas, buildings and vehicles for the presence of many explosive odors. Some of these odors include black powder, dynamite and C-4. The dogs are able to locate many other explosives and chemicals used to manufacture explosive devices. Because the dogs are searching for things that blow up, each explosive dog is a passive alert dog. The service dog unit currently has two explosive dogs but the police department also has a bomb dog that is assigned to the department’s Bomb Squad.