The Somerset County Sheriff’s Office has always been a leader and asset in the law enforcement community. The Somerset County Sheriff’s Office K9 Unit was formed in August 2002 by Sheriff Frank Provenzano and has a history of honorable and distinguished service to the residents of Somerset County. The K9 Unit works closely with local police, as well as many state and federal agencies including, the Drug Enforcement Agency, US Postal Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The officers in the K9 Unit also take an active part in reaching out to the community. In addition to emergency response, the K9 Unit takes part in numerous parades, demonstrations, and other community events.
Handlers along with the Academy K9 Trainer screen and choose working dogs in a manner akin to how they choose elite police officers, selecting those with suitable temperaments and physical characteristics. They seek healthy, athletic dogs that are not fearful or easily startled. The dogs also need to have a particularly acute sense of smell and demonstrate that they have the heart and the drive to work hard. These dogs love to work and they are miserable when they do not have a job to do. After a long day on the job the K9’s go home with the officers where they live a normal dog’s life. Once they’re home, the work switch goes off and they are able to relax in peace.
The Somerset County K9 Unit consists of three K9 handlers and four total dogs. The Sheriff’s Office K9 teams undergo rigorous ongoing training programs to maintain proficiency in basic skills and ensure continued effective performance in the field. Each K9 team must complete a state-mandated 16-week training course at a certified K9 training academy. After completing this initial training, K9 teams must maintain at least eight hours of in-service training each month. They are available to respond to any requests twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. These groups of officers and their K9 partners have been responsible for the seizure of illegal narcotics and the capture of suspects in the commission of crimes. The unit responds to hundreds of calls for service each year and that number continues to increase every year.
The German Shepherd explosive detection canine assists police agencies in detecting and locating an explosive device present in a building, motor vehicle, boat, airplane or anywhere else it is deemed possible that an explosive device might be. The explosive detection K9 team is also part of the New Jersey State Police Detect and Render Safe Task Force which responds to bomb threats. If a major incident occurs, this team can be called to assist anywhere in the state. The Task Force was formed in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
The German Shepherd narcotic canine is used to sniff the exterior and interior of motor vehicles, houses, boats, airplanes, jail cells, and anywhere else where it is deemed possible that narcotics might be being stored. The narcotics detection teams have located drugs that officers may have never found leading to countless arrests and a substantial amount of drugs removed from the street. The narcotic canine also goes in front of hundreds of school children per year teaching them about the dangers of these drugs in our communities.
The German Shepherd tracking canine assists police agencies in recovering missing persons. Working dogs are capable of tracking target odors for either an object or a person, and that the lowest known level of a scent tag detected by a dog is 500 parts per trillion. Sheriff Provenzano understood the need to assist his fellow officers without causing further risk or harm to them while performing extensive searches for dangerous felony suspects who had concealed themselves. Tracking K9s are cross trained for patrol functions which include conducting tracks, evidence or article searches, urban search and rescue and criminal apprehension. Tracking K9s can be utilized for locating missing persons in the wilderness, residential, industrial, waterways, building and bridge collapses, airplane and train wrecks, earthquakes, and crime scenes. This canine also supports the Sheriff's Office Project Lifesaver Task Force and Special Response Team during search and rescue missions.
The Belgian Malinois accelerant detection canine assists police agencies in detecting and locating up to ten different odors and seeks them out in a building, motor vehicle, boat, airplane or anywhere there is a suspicious fire. The accelerant detection K9 team is the county's first arson K9, making Somerset County one of the few in New Jersey to have one. The other K9 arson units are in Morris County and with the State Fire Marshal. Prior to his arrival, if an arson unit was needed, it could take up to four hours to wait for the K9 to arrive on scene.
Canine police officers and their handlers make many sacrifices in order to keep our communities safe. The relationship between a human officer and his/her canine officer is one of the strongest human-animal bonds possible. Many times, they sustain injuries that will require some type of care for the remainder of their lives. Due to the demanding nature of their jobs, many of these dogs require additional care, especially as they age, for problems such as arthritis, separation anxiety and pain management. When working dogs retire from active duty, usually around the age of 10, all the dogs’ benefits cease, including veterinary care and dog food, and any expenses become the responsibility of the handler.
We aim to provide the best possible medical care to Somerset County Sheriff K9 Officers throughout their lives, and to reduce the financial burden on the handler. The veterinarian aims to accomplish these goals by continuing the relationship already established with active duty officers and handlers. The Somerset County Sheriff Office is financially responsible for the care and feeding of the active duty K9 Officers. Unlike other departments with larger budgets and additional manpower, the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office K9 teams are on call 24/7, 365. The demands of the position are unique of the few passionate officers that are willing to dedicate their lives to the responsibilities entailed with being a K9 handler. In addition, this requires tremendous support from their family as well as a financial commitment that often goes unnoticed by the community they keep safe.