CLAYTON — The Clayton Police Department is training the newest member of its force, a K-9 unit.
Two-year-old Major is a German shepherd, originally from Germany, training with Officer Justin Vause.
The two will hit the streets as a team in May.
“He’s going to be doing searches for people and protection work,” said Vause.
“He’ll be doing anything from searching for a missing child, to finding a missing person from a nursing home, or finding subjects who fled on foot after a bank robbery.”
The department’s former police dog, Justice, retired in October, after a couple months out of commission during the summer because of a medical condition.
Training for the job
By the time Major starts his duties, the department will have been without a police dog for almost a year. In some cases, the department has called in canines from other departments to perform searches.
That was the case in January, when the Clayton Police Department called in the Wake County Sheriff’s Department’s K-9 Unit with about six dogs to help search for a man who fled on foot after stealing a television from Walmart on U.S. 70. Major would help with those kinds of searches in the future.
Major and Vause have been training together for about 40 hours a week for the past month in Wilson at Enforcement Canine, a K-9 law enforcement training center.
Vause said he has been able to observe one of the dog’s specialties during training.
“He’s really good at article searches such as, if a suspect were to run from an officer and drop a gun,” said Vause.
“Every time in training, he’s found an article in less than a minute or so.”
Vause was one of three officers from the Clayton department who applied to be a K-9 officer. K-9 handlers from other police departments reviewed and interviewed the applicants and found Vause was the best fit.
“It’s always been one of my career goals, and I saw how much fun the other K-9 officers had,” Vause said.
Not only did the department get a new officer, but Vause’s family also got a new member.
The dog is already living with Vause and his wife and daughter. Vause said they are all excited about the new dog, but while Major is in training, Vause has to limit the dog’s social interaction.
A ‘Major’ purchase
Major cost about $7,000. His additional equipment – cages, leashes, a kennel, handling gear – cost between $5,000 and $6,000, according to town spokeswoman Stacy Beard.
Much of the equipment used with former police dog Justice needed to be replaced after five years, Beard said.
Vause’s police cruiser will be upgraded to accommodate the dog.
The patrol car will be equipped with an automatic door that Vause can open remotely.
In somewhat of a Batman, high-tech fashion, if Vause is doing a traffic stop and gets uncomfortable with the person he’s pulled over, he can hit the remote on his duty belt to open the cruiser door and let Major come to his aid. Dogs in K-9 units are trained for officer protection.
The new features also will help protect Major. The car will have both an automatic fan and an alarm wired to go off if the car overheats.
An overheated car would trigger the sirens, horns and lights to signal that the dog needed help.
24/7 K-9 unit to come?
Police Chief Glen Allen is considering putting a request for a second police dog in the budget for next year.
“Every K-9 handler can do the functions that every other officer does, and if we put the two K-9 officers on opposite shifts, we could readily have a dog available if needed 24 hours a day,” Allen said.
It is uncertain how long Major will serve with the department.
Previous dog Justice was with the Clayton police for five years, but Allen said he has seen dogs serve 10 years with a department.
In the past, police dogs have helped their human partners track suspects and detect illegal drugs.
One high-profile case involving Justice occurred when the recently retired police dog helped detectives locate 86 pounds of marijuana in packages that came through the mail at the UPS store in Clayton.