Force to be reckoned with
They may be deadly, ferocious creatures of stealth but these canines are the guardians of the police service.
Meet Vader, Xander and Kasey.
Adorable, aren’t they?
They love running in open fields, scratches behind the ears and their masters.
Each likes a tummy rub and fetching grubby old pieces of rope.
Oh, and they’ll use you as a chew toy if you try to outrun them.
They’ll chase you down, launch like a missile and latch on to the nearest limb with a vice-like grip, puncturing the thickest fabric and inflicting unimaginable pain.
The 35kg canines can wrestle the biggest brute to the ground, reducing them to a squealing mess begging for mercy.
They’re hell unleashed and even their own handlers have scars and faded fang marks to prove it.
“It’s painful. It’s this immense pressure,” says Sgt Dave Raymond, who regularly dons the “fat-suit” during training sessions to hone the trio’s biting skills.
“They hit you hard; they hit you at full speed. They’ll bite and hold and get into a tug-of-war and try to drag them down.
“They don’t just bite indiscriminately. They’ll bite to defend themselves and their handlers. They’ll go for the first body part that presents itself.”
Sgt Raymond and his fellow Cairns District Dog Squad officers senior constables Adrian Marek and Doug Harvey carry Glocks and Tasers but their german shepherds are as effective as an unholstered weapon at halting criminals.
For most crooks, who range from murder suspects to armed robbers, the mere threat of being gnawed is enough to surrender.
“This year we’ve caught about 100 offenders and only four of them have been bitten,” Sgt Raymond says.
“Obviously the smart ones know what these boys can do.”
The squad is one of the police service’s most diverse assets, working alongside virtually every unit from the Special Emergency Response Team to Water Police.
Cop and dog are used to hunt, pursue and subdue suspects, search for missing people and crowd control, no matter where.
They can be harnessed to their handler while they abseil down cliff faces or winched from a helicopter to scenes inaccessible by road.
The shepherds are also trained to detect drugs, firearms and bombs.
Even their presence soothes other police, Sgt Raymond says.
“We get called to a lot of high-risk jobs,” he says. “Just having them there helps the other police feel safer.
“That’s what we’re there to do – our main role is as a support unit.”
Thanks to advanced breeding and training techniques, their capture rate is becoming more prolific; in the past three years, the number of criminals they’ve apprehended has almost tripled.
After picking up the initial scent of a suspect or missing person, they can track for up to 6km.
“The dogs can now track virtually at a full sprint,” Sgt Raymond says.“They can get people a lot quicker. It’s an innate ability they already have but the breeding program we have just makes it a lot better and suited to policing.”
Last year, Sgt Raymond and Vader, a seven-year-old former Air Force dog, pursued a serial car thief in Innisfail, eventually cornering him in a cane paddock.
As the man tried to speed off in a stolen four-wheel-drive, Sgt Raymond managed to open the door, despite his foot being run over.
Vader leapt into the driver’s seat and, with the help of another officer, pulled the thief from the moving vehicle.
“That was a pretty good catch,” Sgt Raymond says. “He was wanted for 18 months.”
The dogs save lives; they are regularly used to track mental health patients who threaten self-harm.
Each officer speaks of their dog as their partner, not just their pet; every police dog is sworn in, earning the official title of PD the day they graduate from the Oxley Police Academy in Brisbane, where their natural hunting instincts and heightened senses are adapted to the job.
The bond is tight.
When the handlers are en route to a volatile incident, the dogs can sense their nerves; they’ll whine, pace in circles and scratch at the cage or floor in the back of the vehicle.
“If we’re going to a Code 2 job where we might be confronted by someone with a knife or a gun, we might get a heightened sense of awareness and the dogs will feel this,” Sgt Raymond says.
When the handlers switch off between shifts, so too do their partners.
“You’re basically with them 24/7. They’re part of the family so they’re a priority,” Sen-Constable Marek, who handles Xander, says.
“I might be in the bedroom suiting up for work and he (Xander) knows, even though he’s outside. He’ll start to get excited. He knows we’re going to work.”
The dogs aren’t pampered pooches but they do get first-class treatment.Even their diets are strict – they eat Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (known ironically as BARF).
Sgt Raymond has some commonsense advice to crooks confronted by the dogs: give up without a fight.
“If the dogs are coming at you, don’t run and don’t lash out at the dogs. They’ll defend themselves. If you’re hiding in a bush, we don’t know if you’re armed or not so there’s more of a chance you’ll get bitten.
“At the end of the day, we just want everyone to get home from these incidents safely.
“But at the end of the day, we’re there to protect the public and if the dog has to bite to do that, then it will.”
NEW CAIRNS.COM.AU COMMENT POLICY
We welcome your comments on this story. Comments are submitted for possible publication on the condition that they may be edited. Comments submitted without a full name and suburb/location will not be considered for publication. Please read our full comment policy and publication guidelines.
Share this article
Members of the QPS Dog Squad, Sen-Constable Doug Harvey with Kasey, Sen-Constable Adrian Marek with Xander and officer in charge Sen-Sgt Dave Raymond with Vader.