OCALA, Fla. – The Ocala Police Department is one of several Central Florida police agencies that will have new protective vests given to them, thanks to a donation from a national charity.
Both Ocala and other agencies confirm the older vests they have used for their police dogs are old, heavy and outdated. As a result, some departments, such as Mount Dora police, choose not to use the vests.
"We tested the K-9 protective vests and they proved to just be too heavy and cumbersome for our K9 officers," said Lisa McDonald, public Information officer for the City of Mount Dora. "They struggled to move quickly and get over obstacles wearing them and we found they were getting overheated faster and were getting worn out faster than not having them. There was an offer of a donation a few years back, but we declined for the listed reasons."
McDonald said the department recently retired one of their K-9s because of a spinal injury and the other K-9 is out on injury leave.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, there are 42 police K-9 units in the Central Florida area. A list of all the police agencies that do and how many they have can be found here.
The K-9 officers are trained to patrol, track and find people, explosives and drugs. Some are trained to take down a suspect.
The Apopka Police Department recently held a demonstration of what their police dog could do during a Heroes Foundation fundraiser for fallen officers in Mount Dora.
But one thing any K-9 handler will tell you is they often don't know what kind of situation they will be facing in real life.
"K-9 officer’s main responsibility is to go to all in-progress calls," said Officer Gerard T. King Jr. with the Ocala Police Department. "Whether it's domestic, or robberies, or you name it. It's all in progress. We are the first on the line."
King has been a handler and trainer for more than 20 years and shared his own close call with a suspect his K-9 officer found hiding in an air vent.
"When I shined my flashlight, the suspect had a knife in his hand about to stab the dog," King recalled. "And as luck would have it, there was a pipe that the suspect didn't see. It hit his wrist and knocked the knife out of his hand as he was coming down on the dog."
Just last month in Wisconsin, the Racine County Sheriff's Office released body camera footage of a suspect biting a police dog.
K-9 officer Bane
On April 17, a K-9 officer named Bane was killed trying to track down a runaway suspect in Phoenix. A week before, a police dog in Massachusetts was shot in the face by a wanted suspect but survived, while his handler was shot and killed. The two were serving an arrest warrant.
The suspect, 29-year-old Tom Latanowich, of Somerville, Massachusetts was taken into custody after a standoff with police. Authorities say he will be charged with murder.
"These guys put their lives on the line every single day sometimes knowing it," King said. "Sometimes not knowing that could be their last day just to save us."
King said that's why it is so important for both the handler and the K-9 partner to be ready, trained and protected before going out on those possibly dangerous calls and why protective vests can be life savers for both the handler and their K-9 partner.
But King says their older protective gear was outdated and weighed down the dogs.
"Ours are extremely old; they are no longer valid," King said. "They are no longer good. There is an expiration date on vests."
This summer, the Ocala Police Department will receive four bullet and stab protective vests from Vested Interest in K9's Inc.
Cocoa Police Department's K-9, Voodoo
The charity's mission is to provide bullet and stab protective vests and other assistance to police dogs across the nation.
Thanks to both private and corporate donations, they have already donated more than 2,900 protective vests at a cost of more than $2.4 million.
According to the founder of the organization, the vests are made out of breathable mesh, weighs about 4 to 5 lbs., and conforms to the dog’s body. All an agency has to do is apply for a grant to be considered.
Anyone can donate to the cause and help get results for their local k9 team.
According to the Founder and President of Vested Interest in K9's Inc., they have already gifted protective vests to several Florida K-9 police units including Oviedo, St. Petersburg, Jupiter and Miami.
"It’s our pleasure to do this for our nation’s four-legged officers that are put in harm’s way every day," said Sandy Marcal, Vested Interest in K9s founder and president.
More and more police agencies across Central Florida are getting donations of bulletproof vests.
Below is a list of responses from local police agencies about the protective gear for the K-9s. The responses are unedited.
Altamonte Springs Police - Received a new bullet and stab protective vest from Vested Interest in K9's, Inc., a non-profit organization, for their K9 Milow.
Apopka Police - K9 protective gear was donated to the Apopka Police Department approximately 15 years ago by a young lady who collected pennies to purchase them. I believe her charity was called Pennies to Protect Police K9's
Cocoa Beach Police Department - We are fortunate here to have newer equipment, including a protective Kevlar vest for our dual purpose K9, Voodoo. We receive great support from our community (to include donations to the program), and have a city government that understands the importance of a K9 team in law enforcement functions.
Fruitland Police - Recently we had $1200 donated to our agency specifically for the purchase of two (2) new Bullet Proof K-9 Vests. I have attached pictures of our K9 's and their handlers. Both K-9 officers wear them proudly!! K9 Bella and Roscoe from the Fruitland Park Police Department are pictured below.
Longwood Police Department: We do have a vest for our full-service K-9 “Freddy”. He is a German Sheppard mixed, and works full-service at tracking, apprehensions, building searches, drug work etc. . He does have a ballistic vest provided to us through the generosity of a local couple.
Satellite Beach Police - Back in March, the posted that their K-9 Thor receives donated bullet proof vest. Officer Amber Clay and K-9 Thor received a brand new bullet proof vest. Ring Manufacturing donated the custom fitted vest. Ring Manufacturing is a Melbourne based company that makes police training aids.
Sanford Police Department says they have new protective gear and recently had some gear donated by an organization as well.
St Cloud Police - Within the last year or so we had ballistic vests donated for our K9s.
Oviedo Police - Vests were donated and are newer.
Winter Park Police - Have one K9 and do have a vest for him. It was donated. In speaking with the K9 Officer, due to the nature of the dog and the heat that the vest is not worn routinely, but as needed.
West Melbourne Police - The K9’s in their unit have protective vests that are both puncture and bullet resistant. The vests can be put on prior to deploying the dog into a building to search for a suspect or any other high risk operation. The K9s don’t normally track in them due to the climate conditions in Florida, as this could cause premature fatigue and overheating. WMP confirm vests do have expiration dates, but say all of theirs are current at this time.
“In addition to their incredible ability to locate people, drugs, and discarded evidence - these dogs are always the first to go in to any situation,” said Sgt. Justin Cantees, with the West Melbourne Police Department Criminal Investigations Division. “This significantly increases the Officer’s safety as it helps reduce the risk of ambush by hidden suspects, deters physical attack, and the list goes on. However, this makes the K-9 the first to encounter people who are refusing to surrender peacefully.”
Central Florida Police Agencies that do not use protective gear on their K9 police dogs are Winter Garden Police, Kissimmee Police and Mount Dora Police K-9 programs.