Date: Sat, 19 Oct 2002 09:44:44 -0700 (MST)
From: thekoba  (K J WALSH)
Subject: K-9 unit and specialty vehicles
Cc:,, snail ,, thekoba 

Dear Joel,

My apologies for the delayed report. I was quite exhausted thursday night. It's been a busy week. Thursday night's session of the Citizen Police Academy was held at the Deer Valley Airport in far north Phoenix. The only way to get there on time was to go there directly from work, but I made it. The class was held in a hangar, where the acoustics were terrible, and there were distracting noises from an overhead ventilation fan and a thunderstorm in progress. Still, I managed to hear most of what was going on.

We were introduced to our highest ranking cop yet, a commander, who was in charge of the Phoenix Police Tactical Unit and also an official of Homeland Security (which is apparently lax enough to llow me to take this course). He didn't say much to us, but turned it over to a lieutenant, a couple sergeants, a detective, and a couple officers. We were split into three smaller groups and rotated to be informed on all aspects of this unit.

For my group, the first presentation was on the K-9 unit, the culmination of which was the demonstration of the German shepard biting the special sleve worn by one of the officers. The dog didn't seem the least bit hostile. Indeed it was downright friendly, but we were told it was simply trained to bite on command as a game, much as the explosive and drug searching dogs were trained to find these items as a game.

The officer said that they were on duty from 7 PM to 5 AM, as those were the hours at which dog calls were most likely. He did say that they were sometimes summoned from home after they had gone home for calls during the day as well but that they had no regular day shift. The dogs are search dogs and also bite-and-hold dogs. They are generally let loose for searches of buildings or enclosures in which a felony suspect is believe to be hiding and (so he claimed) have been cleared of innocent people. An announcement is made giving the suspect a chance to surrender before the dog is released, and, the officer claimed, the mere threat of a police dog often convinces the suspect to surrender. He did say the dogs were sometimes used for neighbourhood searches.

I remembered reading about such a search by the Austin police south of the capitol area near the Colorado River. They set the dog loose to search for a suspect and found him. Reporters asked the police how the dog knew to go after that suspect and not attack innocent people. They said that the dog would go for the adrenaline scent of a hunted person. That didn't quite ring true for me, as the mere sight of a loose German shepard might cause an adrenaline rush in many innocent people. I think the Austin police were very lucky not to have caused a bystander to be mauled that way.

This officer said that the Phoenix police only used the dog in a neighbourhood apprehension if the officer was close enough to direct the dog to the suspect. He said that a couple officers were bitten accidentally when they got in the way, but that no bystanders ever had been.

Next we went to the specialty vehicles unit. As it was raining by then, we held our session inside one of them--the DUI van, instead of outside. The detective giving that presentation said that our tax money hadn't paid for the DUI van. The insurance industry had donated the money to the police, thinking that they could save money if more drunk drivers were taken off the road that way. The armored car was military surplus, and the mobile command centre was financed by court-awarded money: profits from the war on drugs. I saw the DUI van when I was on my ride-along, so I won't repeat that in any detail.

The armored car has steel armor approximately 1/4" thick, bulletproof glass windows, and self-sealing tires. It has a pintel mount on the top which could mount a machinegun or possibly a light autocannon, but it was empty, and we were told the only armament was what the officers inside carried. The detective said it had once been used to pursue a man with a rifle on a golf course. The man dropped the rifle when he saw it, thinking he was about to be run over. Ordinary rifle rounds wouldn't pierce that armor or glass. Repeated shots to the same tire could immobilise it, despite the self-sealing system. Otherwise the primary method for a civilian to take it out would be by Molotov cocktail.

The command centre was designed after a sniper incident about ten years ago. It has no armor or weapons, and is essentially just an RV with a lot of communications equipment. Negotiators and SWAT team leaders work there.

Next was the helicopter unit. We went to the helicopter hangar, where a sergeant discussed what the helicopters do. They normally fly at about 500 feet altitude and are called to search for felony suspects. The searchlight is their more obvius way of finding suspects, but often the searchlight is used only as a distraction, pointed away from the suspect to give him a false sense of security, while the real searching is done by the passive infrared. The scope was pointed out the hangar door into the night air, and I was quite impressed by what could be seen and in what detail. Old IR scopes tended to present poorly-defined images unless they were much warmer than surrounding terrain, but this scope showed the terrain in as much detail as coul be observed in daylight. Obviously it is useful in tracking suspects because of body heat (except possibly on summer nights when the ground temperature and skin temperature are close to each other).

The helicopters weigh about 2500 lbs. and are lifted by a 495 horsepower engine. The top speed is 140 MPH with usual operating speeds between 60 and 100 MPH. The fuel capacity allows operation for two hours and 20 minutes, but they are rarely kept up more than two hours at a time. Since the helicopters are usually kept at Deer Valley Airport, they often have trouble going through Sky Harbor's airspace when responding to calls in southern Phoenix. They don't go below 300 feet unless it's an emergency. The helicopter normally has a crew of two--the pilot and the searchlight and scanner operator. The helicopter itself has no armament, but both crew members always carry sidearms.

These helicopters are unusual in that they have no tail rotors. They have a ducted fan design that provides the counter-torquethat would normally be provided by a tail rotor. The advantages of this, the seargeant said, were that they were much quieter than conventional helicopters and could sneak up on suspects and that they could land in cramped areas without the risk of damaging a tail rotor. The disadvantage was diminished horsepower and poorer fuel economy and performance than a conventional helicopter.

They do not perform well in windy weather and normally are not flown during dust storms. The sergeant also said that rain will corrode the rotors so that they avoid flying in rain also. There are eight helicopters, varying in age from brand new to ten years old. They are retired after about ten years of service. Brand new and with all equipment, they cost $1.5 million dollars.



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