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West Jordan Police Dogs Take Home 16 Trophies from Competition

Dec 08, 2015 09:06AM ● By Taylor Stevens

By Taylor Stevens

West Jordan - The West Jordan K9 police dogs brought home 16 trophies from the annual Utah Police Officers Association canine competition, held Sept. 19–20 in Vernal, UT. West Jordan also brought home second place overall in narcotics top agency and third place overall in patrol top agency.

“It’s important to go up there for the camaraderie with the other departments and be able to show off our dogs and what they can do,” Danny Benzon, a sergeant with the West Jordan Police Department, said. “It’s not all about fighting people; it’s about the obedience that the dogs have.”

West Jordan sent three of its four police dogs with their handlers to the competition, where they competed against 25 other dogs from around the state and Colorado. The competitors were Duke with his handler, Officer Tom Smith, Bronco with Officer Steve Hutchings and Odin with Officer Greg Gray.

“The competition was competitive, and the final overall scores were very close,” Benzon said in a memo to the West Jordan Police Department. “I am proud of our officers and the effort they have put in over the past year to achieve these accolades.” 

Benzon said that participating in the competition is important for the department for a variety of reasons. 

“It shows that we do a lot of work,” he said. “It brings out the fact that these guys keep their dogs in top performance. And we learn a lot from the other handlers up there, too—what they’re doing differently, what’s working for them, what’s not working for them.” 

Canine dogs assist police officers in searching for drugs, explosives and crime scene evidence, as well as apprehending and searching for criminals. Police dogs also help protect their handlers.

“The goal is to come home each night,” said Officer Steve Hutchings, a handler whose dog participated in the competition. “The dog, in my opinion, ensures that. If I don’t have another officer to back me up, I know my dog is there.” 

K9 dogs and their handlers develop a close bond, and for Hutchings, it’s no exception. 

“I would be devastated if something happened to my dog,” he said.

The police department purchased Hutchings’s canine, Bronco, about a year ago, when the dog was 1 and ½ years old. 

“The dog stays with [its] handler,” Hutchings said. “It goes home with us; it becomes part of our family as well. We have them on the weekends. I take mine on vacation and all those good things.”

All handlers and their dogs must go through eight weeks of patrol training—which includes narcotics, fight work, tracking and evidence—before they can go out into the field, said Hutchings. Once the team gets out of training, it isn’t over. 

“We train every day, just like anybody else with a specialized skill,” Hutchings said.

Because he hasn’t had the opportunity to train his dog as long as others in the competition, Hutchings said he was proud of Bronco’s showing at the event. 

“Me and Bronco have been together for just over a year now, so for me personally it was a great achievement. We didn’t actually graduate until January, so for us to even be able to compete with other dogs that have been around for five, six, seven years was great for me and a real accomplishment. I took a lot of pride in that. To be able to see my hard work paying off and my dog be competitive in those areas was great.”

At the competition, the dogs participated in a variety of exercises to demonstrate the skills their handlers work to teach them, such as obedience and searching for drugs and people. 

One exercise the dogs participated in was an obstacle course, where they had to walk, jump and climb over obstacles, including balancing across teeter-totters and jumping through tires. Throughout the obstacle course, the organizers also introduced distractions to test the focus of the individual dogs.

“It’s an obedience thing,” Benzon said. “A lot of these [obstacles] are done without verbal communication, just hand motions.” 

For the narcotics portion of the competition, the dogs search buildings as well as open areas to sniff out drugs. 

“They place drugs on an acre or two of property, and [the dogs] have a time limit to find the drugs,” Benzon said. “They’re judged on whether the dog indicated in the right place or wrong place—same thing indoors.”

Next, the dogs sniff out people in indoor and outdoor settings to simulate a possible perpetrator situation. 

For Hutchings, it’s skills like these that make K9s such an important component of any police department. 

“[The dogs] are invaluable,” Hutchings said. “Their senses are so much better than ours, that they are able to find things we just walk right past and have walked right past, whether that be people or narcotics.” 

Hutchings also thinks the competition provides its own value. 

“It’s kind of nice to see where you are and gauge yourself against other agencies and those kinds of things,” Hutchings said. “And bringing home 16 trophies shows we do train hard, we enjoy what we do, and we’re very versatile.”