Canine community policing

Jonathan Make
5 min readMay 12, 2023

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The Cheyenne Police Department’s best ambassadors to the community may not be human. They have four legs. They can bark, chase, search, find and bite when necessary.

The CPD’s four canine officers have a stealth advantage that the department’s array of 100-plus officers cannot hope to top: They are cute, fun to pet and somewhat social when not otherwise working. At the same time, these K-9s can thwart even the most determined lawbreaker by foiling attempts to get away or hide illegal drugs.

I was surprised to learn last month during a Cheyenne Citizens’ Police Academy field trip that their human handlers may try to limit the police dogs’ exposure to the public at large in educational encounters. The officers fear that too much socializing with (non-criminal) humans could dull the highly-trained dogs’ crime-fighting skills.

This rationale makes intuitive sense. Given the tens of thousands of dollars spent on each of these animals, the relatively few years in which they can productively work, and all the training for both dog and officer-handler, you don’t want to dilute their effectiveness in any way.

Yet I also wonder, is this a lost opportunity for the police department? Is there any way to use the dogs even more as a tool to educate the public about what CPD does, all while ginning up some good public relations?

A photo by CPD’s Alex Farkas of me and citizens academy classmates.

I had asked the two canine officers running the class about the extent to which they use their dogs, Maverick and Tyler, as PR and education tools. This came during a recent Saturday session of the CPD’s citizens academy, held at Cheyenne Fire and Rescue training facility to the east of town.

Maverick and his handler.

I wish I knew more about why a dog would be less mission-oriented if it played nice with the public more frequently. I do understand there is a risk of exposing these highly trained and expensive animals to too many play-nice kinds of situations. I just wonder if there is some way to use them a little more at events centering around meeting the public, even while not impeding their policing skills.

To be sure, the handlers clearly do use the K-9s to some extent for PR. The officers mentioned some activities involving kids and/or senior citizens.

And days after our class meeting, I noticed the department had just held a meet-and-greet event with the dogs. So they clearly are able to interact with the public, at times, in non-threatening situations.

I just believe it is a missed opportunity that the dogs don’t attend even more public events. At four dogs department-wide, there may simply not be enough of them available at any time to both educate the public and perform their core duties.

A tweet from the CPD about a recent K-9 event.

To me, this is a missed opportunity.

People LOVE the dogs. The dogs seem to like to interact with the (law abiding) public, and they still also enjoy hunting for bad stuff and chasing after “bad” people.

In a world free of financial constraints, where the department could add a few more police dogs, I wonder if it would make sense to take them to more events. And to tell even more people about the invaluable service these animal officers provide.

Two K-9 officers led the class, along with their police dogs, and they were assisted by a colleague who is an agitator. The agitator serves as the suspect/subject in the training simulation exercises.

A CPD officer serves as an agitator for a police dog.

Another surprise was during our class was that I was not put off by how the police officers use their dogs.

I came away reassured that properly using the canines greatly increases public and officer safety. I think other community members might also be reassured, if they also could meet the dogs.

I attended this session with the concern that my family’s warnings about the potential brutality would color my experience. From having seen a previous demonstration of the CPD canine capabilities, they warned me that I might find myself disturbed by the tactics and their implications.

I found the exercises to be nothing of this sort. While I may not share the handlers’ enthusiasm for the “catching bad guys” part of what the dogs can do, I also am a big fan of public safety.

I came away convinced that the dogs (when properly utilized) increase not just officer safety, but also suspect and public safety. It seems like most times when the dogs are deployed, all involved in the encounter come away with fewer physical injuries than would have likely occurred using other types of force (aka “tools” in the policing profession).

Part of my calculation here is also a psychological one. It seems like most suspects will heed the dogs and their handlers and become more compliant, not less. A dog bite would not be necessary in the first place.

I was impressed by the wide array of expertise the dogs each have. And the dogs’ handlers are highly educated in this specialization.

Tyler is the name of this dog (a female).

Whatever your stance on policing and K-9s, I encourage you to sign up to attend one of the twice-annual, month-long citizen police academies. Our class learned a lot about how cops perform their jobs.

Alex Farkas, the department’s spokesperson, put together this class.

Every single rank-and-file and superior officer who interacted with our class came across as entirely transparent. We met sworn officers and civilians from every type of CPD specialty, plus the county’s emergency dispatchers.

We got to know them a little bit as people — always a good thing during these fraught times. Even if they are not as cute as the police canines.

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Jonathan Make

I work at USPTO but my views only here. Buff about good journalism, writing, art & culture. Heart my wife, son & pets.