BOULDER — This week, the Montana Highway Patrol is teaming up with local law enforcement agencies from across the state – helping to get K-9 officers ready for an important certification test coming up later this year.
MHP is hosting a two-day training session at their new headquarters in Boulder. On Wednesday, dogs practiced searching vehicles for drugs, identifying items with human scent that a suspect may have dropped, looking through rooms for potential explosives and assisting with apprehending suspects.
K-9s go through testing each year to maintain certification through the North American Police Work Dog Association. This training is intended to mirror what they’ll have to do in that test, to get them familiar with the format.
“If there's any issues that arise, we're able to work on them as we're doing the mock certification,” said Sgt. Shad Andersen, who supervises MHP’s K-9 program.
Other law enforcement agencies – from the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office in the west to the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office in the east – are on hand to work with MHP this week. Andersen says it’s the first time they’ve had this many people together for a training here.
“Not only do we train together, we're often on the same calls together,” he said. “So it's good when you're out there on the road to know what to expect from these guys when you're working with them, especially in an emergent situation.”
Having the Boulder campus has given MHP more options for setting up this type of event. It provides acres of space for outdoor training, as well as buildings that they can use for specific scenarios. Andersen said they plan to leave the training setups in place and continue improving on them.
“The sky's the limit out here for K-9 training,” said Sgt. James Beck, with MHP’s Western Criminal Interdiction Team.
Beck was working with his K-9 partner Apollo, practicing detecting drugs in a vehicle. MHP set up six vehicles in a fenced area for training – most of them donated by a wrecking company in Butte. They even have two school buses for the dogs to search.
“We try to expose them to as much as possible,” said Beck.
Andersen said their goal is to have regular trainings at the Boulder campus. He said events like this will continue to be important – especially as Montana law enforcement continues to report high volumes of drug seizures.
“The K-9 has proven time and time again to be one of the most useful tools we have,” he said.