In dogged pursuit of K-9 safety

Vests: Montgomery County is the first large Maryland jurisdiction to put bullet-halting Kevlar on its police canines.

August 12, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- Police dogs, already armed to the teeth, have been given more protection for patrolling the mean streets of Montgomery County: bulletproof vests.

Montgomery is the first large jurisdiction in Maryland to wrap its K-9 dogs in bullet-stopping Kevlar.

The 21 vests, sleek and black, sport big white block letters on the flanks that spell POLICE. (The nameplates are removable, perhaps for undercover work.)

They were modeled yesterday in the unforgiving noon sun by members of the K-9 units from the county police, Montgomery County Park Police and Takoma Park Police. They seemed none too pleased with the heat-retaining quality of the garments.

Nonetheless, the humans who donated the vests -- officials of the Montgomery County Humane Society -- and the humans who accepted them used words such as "exciting" to describe the event.

The dogs were hailed as "defenders of justice" by the Rev. Thomas Kane, who then blessed them and their handlers with holy water from a stainless steel dog dish.

The 2,500- member United States Police Canine Association said a record six police dogs were killed by gunfire last year.

The association director, Chief Russ Hess, cautioned that there is no anecdotal evidence to indicate the vests have saved any police dogs, and no technical data, either.

"You don't go out and put it on your dog and shoot it to see if it's going to stop a bullet," said Hess, a 28-year law enforcement veteran who runs the Jackson Township, Ohio, police department.

The custom-fitted vests are $350, a pittance compared to the $7,000 it costs to buy and train a patrol dog, Hess says.

The humane society also donated 17 temperature monitors, the so-called "hot dog units" that attach to K-9 cruisers and alert the handlers when vehicle temperatures reach dangerous levels.

The device sounds an alarm, rolls down the cruiser windows and turns on a fan to cool the canine.

Ten percent of the vests purchased by the humane society will go to one Montgomery household -- one for K-9 Cody, Montgomery Officer Sharon Burke's dog, and one for K-9 Kelly, Park Police Sgt. James Burke's dog.

"We're avoiding canine envy," Sergeant Burke laughed.

The ceremony ended without any mention of Blitz, the rookie Rottweiler gunned down 14 years ago as he cornered an armed robbery and kidnapping suspect in Bethesda -- the only county K-9 to meet that fate.

Blitz is remembered by a simple plaque that hangs in a quiet corner of the county's police training academy.

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