The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office began a K-9 program in 1983. On their first call, K-9 Fred and Sergeant Al Leone proved the value of a well trained canine team when they successfully searched for three young boys who were lost in the woods of Forestport. Since that first call, canines have continuously served as a valuable police tool by bringing a variety of skills to police work that enhance a deputy sheriff's capabilities to serve the public.
The Sheriff’s Office maintains three K-9 Teams. A K-9 Team consists of a uniform Deputy Sheriff, and a dog. Canines are acquired when they are between the ages of one and two years old. The canine and his handler complete 360 hours of training before becoming certified. The canines have a working career of about eight years, and a life expectancy of twelve years. Once trained, the police dog becomes the deputy's partner on patrol and the dog can effectively protect the deputy. Often, the mere presence of a police canine deters potentially violent situations.
Police dogs' skills are not limited to deterrence and protection. A canine's keen sense of smell allows him to find children, senior citizens, hunters and others who have become lost or disoriented. A canine is also able to track and locate suspects and can be utilized in situations that would be life threatening to a deputy. Dogs can enter and search buildings for hiding suspects, and are trained to locate and secure suspects until a deputy safely enters and makes an arrest.
The Sheriff's Office dogs are trained to detect marijuana, hashish, cocaine, crack-cocaine and heroin. When alerting to the odor of drugs during a search, dogs respond aggressively, trying to get at the substance by scratching and pawing. The K-9 Teams are utilized frequently by the Correction Facility and local schools for building-wide drug searches.
A number of our dogs are trained for explosive detection. The dogs are able to detect dynamite, C4, nitro and numerous other substances of which explosives are constructed. During a search for explosives, the dogs respond to the explosives odor in a manner that is safe, but identifiable to the handler. When alerting to the odor of an explosive, the dog sits and waits patiently. The aggressive response of scratching and pawing that signals a successful drug search is not the appropriate response for a successful explosives search.
A K-9 Team handler and his dog must complete specialized training each month. When off-duty, a canine lives with his handler as a friend and family dog. The county purchases all food and supplies, and pays for veterinary care and boarding as necessary. In order to care for their partners, K-9 handlers are allotted an hour of upkeep time each duty day, and compensated and hour of overtime each off-duty day.