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Canines and community policing: an introduction to K-9 Lite.

Numerous municipal, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the United States successfully employ canine units as an additional, as well as cost-effective, measure in their crime control strategy. (1) However, this option appears underused in the college and university setting. As shown in crime and drug literature, campuses often suffer the same ills as many communities. Additionally, the threat of terrorist attacks spawned by the activities of September 11, 2001, have created a sense of uneasiness in an environment previously free of such tension. These two factors offer compelling reasons for starting campus canine programs to supplement the traditional campus police model for the purpose of explosives or narcotics detection. (2)

Campus law enforcement agencies can establish such programs with a minimum of start-up expenses through creative networking and planning. The University of Central Florida Police Department (UCFPD) based its canine unit upon this premise and offers its own experiences as an example of the potential for this type of operation. (3) This paradigm links trained dogs to ongoing community policing efforts by generating high levels of community support through planned media coverage and provides creative funding strategies that can significantly enhance the probability of success in such endeavors.


Prior to the arrival of UCFPD's first dog, the department's public information officer developed the proper social construction of the program. This construct described the canine program as a new from of community-police partnership and the dog as the four-footed community police officer of the 21st century. (4) Because perception often becomes reality, the department worried that its efforts would be wasted if the public's opinion of the program was anything but positive. Consequently, when a window of opportunity presented itself for a press conference, the department decided to move forward, even though its police dog had not yet arrived. The department used a stand-in dog, K-9 Rommel, to provide the media with the necessary photo opportunity. K-9 Rommel was fully trained and able to perform a number of search-related tasks that captured the interest of a number of television and newspaper reporters who found the story newsworthy.

UCFPD sent press releases to all forms of media (radio, television, and newspaper) and offered the opportunity to meet its dog. All of those who attended the press conference received a comprehensive fact sheet that contained a cost analysis. By providing the information necessary to construct a newsworthy story, the department played a major role in the direction that the coverage took. Consequently, the initialization of the program met with no criticism, and a strong relationship formed between the department and specific contacts in the media.



Campus law enforcement agencies can procure a number of items at little or no cost that may greatly enhance their canine programs. The only limit to the amount of items is an agency's creativity. UCFPD actively sought donations from other agencies, the military, and citizens in the community, as well as within its own university environment. Much of the department's success hinged on the availability of surplus resources from the federal government. (5)


Although the donation of equipment and supplies is a cornerstone of K-9 Lite, cash funding offers the flexibility to purchase specific items difficult to locate through a direct donation. UCFPD sent e-mails to various corporations seeking sponsorship, and one pet store chain responded. This organization scheduled a series of dog washes at a number of its stores in the region. The business donated the proceeds of these events, plus a cash match from each store, to the program. In addition to the obvious funding benefits, such events offer high visibility interaction with the public, further strengthening community support.

Identifying Trainers and Handlers

Probably, the most important component of this equation rests with identifying a trainer and a handler for the dogs. (6) In many cases, small agencies can "piggyback" off larger agencies. These larger agencies usually have many more resources to draw upon and many allow campus canine handlers to attend the training that they conduct with their own personnel. In addition, training aids for both explosives and narcotics detection can be costly and difficult to obtain, as well as possibly create storage hazards. Most larger agencies have identified and dealt with these issues. In the pilot stage of a campus police canine program, it may prove easier to steer clear of these problems by using the training aids of other agencies. For example, UCFPD had a strong, positive relationship with many neighboring departments that offered to train its dogs at no cost. Moreover, by partnering with other agencies, handlers are exposed to varied methodologies of training, while the relationship between agencies is strengthened by the interaction between their personnel.

Acquiring Dogs

Within the K-9 Lite model, UCFPD attempted to identify donation dogs that possessed the necessary drives to accomplish the tasks at hand. To this end, the department searched newspaper ads and the Internet and contacted animal controls and humane societies within the region. It tested a number of dogs before obtaining one from a rescue shelter, which had learned of the department's search for a drug dog. Screened for ability and temperament by this organization, the dog has completed tracking training and has begun training in narcotics detection. Interestingly, one of the university's fraternities ultimately paid for the dog. Although the cost of the animal was minimal ($175), the payment symbolized an improved relationship between campus police officers and the student body.

As a cautionary note, agencies must realize that the task of testing and selecting a dog should fall upon the trainer that eventually will be asked to train the animal. Then, administrators should make the final decision based upon the expert opinion of the trainer and the needs of their particular university environment.

Allocating Vehicles

One of the costliest investments can be the dedication of a vehicle to the program. For UCFPD, however, a solution presented itself (quite by accident) that overcame this issue. The department decided to adopt a 12-hour shift plan after research showed that personnel strongly favored such a change. Upon initiating this shift alteration, the department found that it no longer needed several patrol vehicles to maintain the same level of coverage. In fact, the department was able to remove two vehicles from the fleet and still have surplus pool cars. The department assigned both vehicles to the canine unit, thereby providing take-home cars for the dog handlers.

Obtaining Kennels

One expense not always apparent in the beginning is the kennel that accommodates the dog within the patrol vehicle. These kennels protect the dog from injury and, thus, are a necessary item. However, prices range from $1,200 to $3,800, depending upon the quality and materials used in constructing the kennel. UCFPD contacted all law enforcement agencies in the state of Florida requesting the donation of surplus kennels and received two responses. The department accepted both kennels and installed them in the two dedicated canine patrol vehicles.


Recently, in holding with the philosophy of community policing, the UCFPD engaged in a research project to evaluate and better understand the various aspects of student experiences at the university. (7) As part of this project, the department surveyed approximately 600 students to develop a benchmark measure of K-9 Lite. In this system, canines represent an integral part of the public relations aspect of the department. Likewise, UCF students make up the community as they receive the majority of police services at the university. Consequently, the cumulative perceptions of the students serve as an evaluation and the ultimate measure of success or failure of K-9 Lite. The evaluation eventually will become a steering mechanism for the program, with yearly surveys compared against it to measure levels of student approval.


Preliminary findings indicated that the students, as a community, have responded positively to the canine program as a form of community policing. Seventy percent of the students surveyed believed that the presence of the K-9 unit could deter drug use on campus, while less than 12 percent felt that police dogs were a waste of resources. Sixty percent of the students reported that having a bomb dog made them feel more secure on campus, and 67 percent agreed that canines reduced crime on campus. In an examination of contingent valuation, students responded to hypothetical scenarios about out-of-pocket funding for certain canine services. Seventy-eight percent of the students stated that they would pay $1 or more per month to fund a bomb dog on campus, and 73 percent indicated that they would pay $1 or more per month to fund a drug dog on campus. Although analysis of the data will continue, initial examination indicated that the K-9 Lite system has met with approval.



Canine units can enhance law enforcement's crime control strategies, especially in the areas of narcotics and explosives detection. Because many campus police departments face the same challenges as municipal law enforcement agencies, they too may benefit from employing detection dogs in their crime control efforts.

The K-9 Lite model implemented successfully at the University of Central Florida represents one method of establishing a canine program. Obviously, not the final word in the creation of a campus canine program, it nonetheless offers one way to begin using trained dogs within a university environment. Additionally, it demonstrates that the minimal costs to fund a canine program provide an opportunity for even the smallest college to establish and maintain a detector dog program, which, in these uncertain times, may prove extremely valuable to the safety of the students and faculty.


(1) One example of K-9 unit cost effectiveness, examined by the author and Dr. Ross Wolf of the University of Central Florida Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies in 2002, found that trained search dogs were 33 percent more effective than officers without narcotics-trained dogs when calculating the number of possible arrests.

(2) The author cautions readers that dogs should not be trained to search for both explosives and narcotics, as the potential for a dog to misunderstand creates an unacceptable level of risk to both persons and property.

(3) The author and Dr. Ross Wolf first presented the concept of K-9 Lite at the 44th annual International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators conference in Cleveland, Ohio, in July 2002. They based their concept on the model Government Lite first proposed by Marsha Segal-George in Public Management 79, no. 7 (1997).

(4) Based on research the author and Ray Surrete conducted on police dogs in the media, wherein they examined 2,022 newspaper stories around the country over a 7-year period to determine trends and public perception. See "From Killers to Cuddlers: News Media Coverage of Law Enforcement Canines," Police Forum 12, no. 4 (2002).

(5) The Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service, http://

(6) For additional information, see the International Association of Chiefs of Police, "Law Enforcement Canines," IACP National Law Enforcement: A Compilation of Model Polices. Volume II, Section 34.

(7) The project collected data from self-reported survey instruments. Surveys were confidential and voluntary and students were given informed consent prior to receiving the survey. The project adhered to all university requirements regarding human subject participation and obtained Institutional Review Board approval.


Dr. Mesloh, a former law enforcement officer and canine handler and trainer, currently is an assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.

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Author:Mesloh, Charlie
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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