In late September, a new team member will be joining the Delta Police Department. A K9 by the name of Racio (Ra-ko) will be paired with Officer Will Hammon.
Hammon joined the Delta Police Department about three years ago. While he's a young officer, he's an experienced dog handler, having received extensive training through the U.S. Army. He and his K9 partner were deployed to Afghanistan, where they specialized in the detection of explosives. Hammons' 360 hours of training also included a homemade explosives K9 imprint training session offered by the Department of Justice at the National Canine Training and Operations Center in Yuma, Ariz.
When Luke Fedler was named chief of the police department about a year and a half ago, he asked all his staff members what they could bring to the DPD, to improve the department and to make the community safer. Hammon suggested a K9 program. Fedler was not enthused about the idea, but Hammon persevered, so Fedler tasked him with putting together a program outline. After reviewing Hammon's proposal, and witnessing the passion he had for the program, Fedler embraced the idea as a tremendous opportunity for the DPD.
"His training is phenomenal," Fedler said of Hammon. "We have a huge asset in Delta that we haven't used."
Training for both dog and handler, special equipment and ongoing care for the dog can be expensive. Hammon was able to obtain a grant from K9 Working Dogs International, which provides police service dogs and hands-on training to law enforcement agencies across the country. An additional grant from POST (Police Officer Standards and Training) will cover the cost of Hammon's training, which entails 160 hours of working with Raico at the K9 Working Dogs International site in Kansas. Additional donations from Walmart, Sisson Feed & Seed and community members will help offset the cost.
Details of the K9 program were revealed at a recent work session of the Delta City Council, where Hammon, Fedler, supervisor Ryan Artaz and Commander Jesse Cox outlined the advantages ranging from officer safety, to drug detection, to tracking fugitives or missing persons. The mere presence of a K9 team can deter crime and reduce the likelihood of officers having to use force, Hammon explained.
Recently, the DPD requested the assistance of the Cedaredge K9 team during the execution of a search warrant for drugs in a home in Delta. Fedler said the suspects vigorously protested the search -- until the K9 officer walked around the corner and sat the dog down. "The suspects were cooperative after that," he said.
Through a series of preliminary interviews, Hammon was paired with a Belgian Malinois, a medium- to large-sized shepherd with the coloring of a German shepherd. The breed is widely used by the military and law enforcement as a working dog.
Racio will live with Will and be his companion both on and off duty. The two will participate in established team training sessions in Grand Junction, plus day-to-day activities, to keep the K9 active and fit for duty. A minimum of 16 hours of training is required each month.
Hammon showed a couple of videos to illustrate the psychological effect a K9 can have on suspects. "It makes them think twice," he said.
While Raico is dual purpose dog, trained to bite if necessary, he's also good with kids. Hammon and his K9 companion will be walking the halls of Delta schools and attending community events. Fedler said a big part of the K9 program is community involvement.
Raico will travel to and from work in a special cage fitted into the back seat of Hammon's patrol car. The cage is equipped with sensors that measure the temperature in the car. If Hammon is out of the vehicle and the interior gets too hot or too cold, an alert will be sent to Hammon's cell phone. If Hammon doesn't respond in a certain amount of time, the cage will open automatically to release the dog. Hammon will also be able to release the dog by remote control, if he is out of the car and feels the need for backup.
"Our use of force, as well as our assaults on officers, have skyrocketed in the last couple of years," Fedler said. "I truly believe that if we have a dog, we're going to see those numbers go way down."