SWAT Dogs Learn The Ropes
Houston Officer Monroe Gage and K-9 partner Falco.
by Barbara A. Schwartz (2002)
Falco, a two-year-old Dutch shepherd, took to the streets last April Fool's Day as Houston PD's newest tactical K9. If he knew what was in store for him, he might not have been so enthusiastic about donning the Kevlar vest.
Falco and his handler, Officer Monroe Gage III, recently rappelled 224 feet from the top of Enron (name soon to be changed) Field to the baseball diamond below. The feat came as part of the Texas Tactical Police Officers Association (TTPOA) rappel school last December. Falco utilized the latest in SWAT tactical dog gear, a patrol-SWAT vest, designed and supplied by K9 Storm, Inc. of Winnipeg, Canada. The vest boasts threat level II ballistics protection with double panels in the the front lower chest cavity and heart area.
K9 Storm's vest is constructed with a load-bearing harness system allowing the dog to wear the vest comfortably for tracking, searches, and rappelling. The handler connects his carabiner to a "V" ring on the back of the vest to secure the K9 for rappel operations.
First time over the wall, Falco went willingly. By the third time, the dog wasn't as happy about having his feet off the ground and a small protest ensued. With patience, Officer Gage coaxed Falco into action. Falco was selected as a tactical dog after a long search. A different personality and temperament is required in a SWAT/tactical K9 as compared to patrol K9s. The dog must be aggressive yet stable and sociable.
Tactical dogs must respond to non-verbal commands, such as pointing, and obey commands from more than one officer while determining the difference between officers and suspects. The dog must be comfortable around automatic rifle fire as well as the unique movements of a SWAT officer.
The Houston Police Department implemented tactical dogs two years ago and has not regretted the decision. "The dogs add detection capabilities that SWAT previously did not have," states lead instructor Sandy Wall. Most importantly, tactical dogs provide police with more options. The TTPOA rappel school instructors included: Sergeant Sidney Blair, Brazoria County Sheriff's Office, Officers Sandy Wall and John Murphy, Houston PD SWAT, Officers Frank Gutierrez and Mark Pointon, San Antonio PD, and Officer Greg Bisso a Houston Tactical K9 trainer.
Barbara A. Schwartz is a Houston-based police writer.