K-9, Environmental, Agricultural Units
The Highlands County Sheriff's Office K-9 Unit consists of eight K-9 teams. Currently we have four dual-purpose patrol dog teams, three bloodhound tracking teams and one single-purpose narcotics team. Each canine team is made up of one handler and one dog. The patrol and narcotics dogs are three Belgian Malinois, one Dutch Shepherd and one German Shepherd.
Our Teams have placed in the top 10 in several state and national training competitions. These teams perfom numerous functions:
Narcotics Detection: A trained K-9 can be a useful tool for law enforcement in the detection of narcotics which are transported in a motor vehicle. This method can be conducted safely without removing anyone from the vehicle. K-9's also assist in the search for illegal narcotics during search warrants. Using the K-9 team on search warrants to check for narcotics is safe and saves time from manually looking for drugs in hidden locations.
- High Risk Building Searches: K-9s are trained in the ability to locate and apprehend suspects on command in a building. This will keep deputies from having to enter when a suspect is in the building and is possibly armed.
- Area Searches: K-9s can clear a large area looking for suspects or alert his handler of a suspect's location within an area being searched.
- Article Searches: A K-9 can locate items left or dropped by fleeing suspects. K-9 teams conduct training in the detection of human scent on articles. When an item with fresh human scent is located, the dog will alert the handler of its location.
- Apprehension of fleeing suspects: The K-9 teams are able to physically apprehend a fleeing suspect on command, and can be commanded to stop at any time during the apprehension. This includes "recalling" the dog before the he engages the suspect.
- Felony Stops: The K-9 teams are trained to approach/search vehicles when a "felony stop" has been made. If a K-9 team is on scene, the canine will search the vehicle after the last known person has been extracted.
- Handler Protection: K-9s are trained to protect their handler if he/she becomes involved in a physical altercation.
- Tracking: Patrol K-9s are also trained to track fleeing suspects and apprehend on command. This is a valuable tool when the suspect fleeing is violent or possibly armed and would put a conventional tracking team at risk.
- Community Relations (Public Demonstrations): By conducting demonstrations, the public becomes more familiar with the use of these types of dogs and their capabilities. The community is able to see the type of training the team does along with the high level of control the handler has with the K-9.
- Crowd Control/Deterrent: Once a K-9 team has established themselves within a community, the criminal element becomes very aware. During the dispersal of large crowds, the criminal element may challenge a Deputy Sheriff, but very few challenge a K-9 team.
Other than patrol dogs, the Highlands County Sheriff's Office also utilizes bloodhounds for tracking. The bloodhound tracking teams consist of one bloodhound and one handler. Bloodhounds have an incredibly sensitive olfactory system and great stamina and are born trackers. Some of the situations in which we utilize our tracking teams are listed below.
- Missing Children: The Highlands County Sheriff's Office receives numerous calls for service each year which are for children who have wandered away from their homes and gotten lost.
- Alzheimer Patients: In Highlands County, we use our tracking teams to search for, recover and return home safely many Alzheimer patients.
- Criminal Suspects: In many cases, suspects attempt to run from law enforcement officers. We use our tracking teams to locate and apprehend suspects who have fled. We also respond to other jurisdictions to assist them with these same type issues.
- Public Relations: Bloodhounds are a great tool for public relations. Most times they are very friendly dogs and they love the attention. Their tracking ability coupled with their scent discrimination allows them to really put on great show.
In response to a growing illegal dumping issue, the Highlands County Sheriff's Office established the role of an environmental deputy, whose duties are to investigate illegal dumping sites with the goal of identifying those responsible. If the dumped items can be traced to a source, the cases can be prosecuted, and several felony charges have been filed.
In some instances, problem sites are detailed to the Detention Unit's inmate work crews to be cleaned off and taken to the landfill.
Agriculture is Highlands County's largest industry. The Highlands County Sheriff's Office Agricultural Unit assists the county's farmers, ranchers and citrus growers with issues that are unique to the agricultural industry. In addition to investigating thefts of equipment and livestock, the Unit also deals with criminal trespassing and other crimes.
Because they have four-wheel-drive vehicles, the K-9 Unit's bloodhound teams are tasked as agricultural deputies when they are not performing K-9 functions. There is also a full-time agricultural detective.
The Ag Unit is also home to the agency's water and air units. The Sheriff's Office has two traditional boats as well as an airboat and also a two-seater airplane.
The boats are used to patrol the county's lakes and other waterways, as well as for search and rescue missions. They also deploy with the agency's dive team when needed.
The airplane, which holds a pilot and a spotter, is used to help track fugitives and for any other occasion when an "eye in the sky" is required.
The Sheriff's Office has also added several drones to its operations. These are used for helping look for suspects who have fled on foot as well as to keep an "overwatch" when K-9 teams are tracking a dangerous fugitive.