April 23, 2014

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Lorain police add pair of dogs to their force

LORAIN — No fight or flight, no bite.

Police dogs learn it from training while most criminal suspects who encounter them know it instinctively.

Lorain police Officer Craig Payne, front, with Kriss, an 18-month-old German shepherd, and Officer Eric Alten, with Garp, a 2-year-old German shepherd, new members of the Lorain K-9 unit Tuesday at the Lorain Police Department. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

Lorain police Officer Craig Payne, front, with Kriss, an 18-month-old German shepherd, and Officer Eric Alten, with Garp, a 2-year-old German shepherd, new members of the Lorain K-9 unit Tuesday at the Lorain Police Department. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

Like the domestic violence suspect fleeing rookie police dog Kriss and his handler Officer Craig Payne on June 28. Payne said the suspect was hiding behind a fence, so Payne threw Kriss over the fence. End of chase.

“Kriss did exactly as he was trained to do, which is do a circle and bark and hold the suspect at bay,” Payne said Tuesday. “It worked out perfect.”

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Like the snapping of a collapsible baton by an officer, the sight of a police dog can be intimidating and make even a rowdy drunk reconsider tangling with cops. Rookie police dog Garp’s appearance outside a bar where patrons were refusing to disperse also changed minds.

“I got him out of the car and just started walking along the roadway,” said Officer Eric Alten, Garp’s handler. “Within about a minute or two, everybody was gone.”

The ability of Garp and Kriss — two German shepherds from the Czech Republic who hit the streets a few weeks ago — to only bite on command is crucial. After some 30 years of using dogs, the department stopped using them in 2009 because they couldn’t be controlled, said Lt. Edward Super, a department supervisor who was bitten by one of the old dogs. The Belgian shepherd attacked a janitor in the department, causing serious injuries.

“Our old dogs used to be pretty mean,” Super said. “You couldn’t get near them.”

Garp, 2, and Kriss, 18 months, are more mellow. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t trained to attack on command.

“They have great drive to work,” said Dan Bowman, head of Columbus-based Gold Shield Canine Training, where the dogs received 400 hours and the handlers received 200 hours of training. “The handlers have an exceptional work ethic. They’re very dedicated to the program.”

Bowman, an ex-Camden, N.Y., police officer, said he has trained about 500 dogs since he became a dog trainer in 1981. Gold Shield has provided dogs to some 200 police departments in Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

Training, which is done on the streets of Columbus to better simulate real conditions, includes dealing with conflict, reacting to gunfire, drug detection and tracking. Garp and Kriss are cross trained to do drug detection and tracking.

Training also included Alten and Payne — who command their dogs in German — being attacked by Garp and Kriss while wearing protective clothing. “It was a real adrenaline dump,” Alten said.

Handlers take their dogs home and usually keep them after retirement, which is usually between the ages of 7 and 10 years old. Alten and Payne, both first-time handlers, said they grew up with dogs.

Payne, 32, said he became a handler because dogs are frequently used by police.

“You get to be involved in a multitude of calls,” said Payne who joined the force in 2005.

Alten, 27, said he became a handler because he was impressed by the cooperation he saw between handlers and their dogs after joining the force in 2007. Alten said he and Garp quickly bonded.

“Within the first week of having him I felt like I had another best friend,” he said. “The trust that they give to you and the loyalty, it’s just amazing.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.