Saturday, 28 June 2014

Four-legged crime busters

The K9 unit officers conducting training at the Police Training Centre (Pulapol), Kuala Lumpur

KUALA LUMPUR: A dog is a man’s best friend -- and to a group of K9 unit police officers they are more than just that.

“He is like family to me,” said Corporal Desmond anak Nyokin referring to his four-legged furry colleague, Jihu at the Police Training Centre (Pulapol) in Jalan Semarak, Kuala Lumpur.

Jihu, a German Shepherd has been Desmond's partner for almost seven years now.

Their relationship like most dog-handler teams is not just based on any working partnership but one that is built on the strong sense of attachment and trust.

“Our main responsibility as handler is to cultivate good relationship with the dog. That is most important. Otherwise, it might not be able to perform well in carrying out its duties.”

For a handler, he works on equal footing with his dog to protect and serve the public, and at times, even relying on his canine partner to protect him from danger.

For the four-legged creature, the handler is everything to him – one that that takes care of his grooming, feeding, training - and is also his only source of affection and love. 

Typical day at work

Under the police policy, one dog must be accorded to one handler.

A typical day for a canine handler and his dog begins at 7am whereby the officer is responsible in cleaning the dog’s cage and then bring the dogs out for their routine walks.

By 9am, the dogs must undergo daily trainings that include agility and obedient classes as well as specific duty exercises as each dog is trained exclusively for one function.

In the Royal Malaysian Police Force (PDRM), its K9 unit serves in four functions.

Corporal Desmond anak Nyokin with his crime-busting partner, Jihu.
The first type of dogs established in the force is the general purpose dogs (GPD).

They can perform many tasks such as searching for missing people and properties, tracking criminals, crowd control and works well with police support units.

Set up in 1979, the narcotics detection dogs unit was established to boost the fight against drug, the nation’s number one enemy at that time.

The explosive and firearms detection dogs were the third unit to be set up in 1989.

They are usually tasked with sweeping venues before major events and visits by dignitaries, or assist in investigations, by tracking spent shell casings from firearms.

In 2010, the police force established the cadaver unit, whereby the dogs are capable of detecting blood, bodies either buried or submerged in water.

Generally, two types of dogs are preferred in the police force around the world – the German Shepherd which are renowned for their intelligence and strength.

The Labrador on the other hand, are picked to join the narcotics and explosives unit due to their gentler nature and strength at detection work.

Selection process

Currently, 135 police dogs are at service across the country - all graduated from the K9 training centre in Kuala Lumpur.

The PDRM K9 operations started in 1968. At that time, the unit had only six dogs that were trained and imported from the United Kingdom.

For the past four years, the canines are imported from China at a cost of RM33,000 each.

“These dogs are selected between the ages of 1-2. We will send our veterinarian and trainer from Malaysia to select from among 100 to 200 dogs. This is to ensure we only select the best,” said Bukit Aman K9 Unit chief DSP Har Mun.

“The dogs are chosen based on their temperament, such as their level of aggression, good physique and health. But the most important criteria are their nose work. Just like humans, not everyone has what it takes to become a police. Same goes for dogs. Not all dogs can be trained to become a K9 dog.”

After a meticulous selection, the dogs will be brought back to Malaysia, whereby the canine and his handler will go through four months of training together, during which they learn to work as a team and develop a partnership.

This includes training the dogs to understand their handler’s instructions in the Malay language.

“A dog’s attachment towards his handler is very important. At the initial stages, we get the dogs to be obedient through fear and discipline. The other method to reward them, for example, they are rewarded each time they complete training.”

“The most important and helpful method to get them to be obedient is by bonding - the love and care by the handlers. Once attached, they will do almost anything for you,” added DSP Har Mun.

Special relationship

If creating a good working relationship with fellow human being can be challenging, building one with a canine is multiplied, according to the K9 handlers.

“K9 is the place in the police force to learn about patience. At times, I lose my cool too. But, he is my partner at work. I have to learn to ‘speak’ his language,” said the only woman handler of the police force, Corporal Hilda anak Wilson Gunong.

“It was challenging to form that attachment at first. But we have to play with them and after a while, he will know who his master is,” she said of Dahei, a black Labrador with the narcotics unit that enjoys cajoling and petting.

For the dog handlers, the attachment with their partners at work also comes with a price. At the end of the dog’s service, some officers find it difficult to part ways with their four-legged friends.

The average years of service of a canine are 7 to 10 years. As long as they are healthy, the dogs are kept in the training centres and looked after. But without good care, some of these canines end up deteriorating in health and are put to sleep.

“I think Jihu will be my last dog. I wish that handlers can have the option to keep their dogs. I'm hoping that PDRM will consider this,” said Desmond.

Astro Awani 

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