K-9 cops to compete in W.Va.

May 20, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Police dogs at the Martinsburg Police Department have scoured hillsides, combed back streets and stayed on exhaustive searches for hours looking for criminals.

This year, the Martinsburg Elks Club gave the K-9 unit its Outstanding Law Enforcement award after the department's two German shepherds captured two men charged after a rape and robbery at Krista-Lite Motel along Interstate 81 in June.

Officer Scott Sheetz and his dog, DoJan, tracked one of the men across the interstate into a remote area while David W. Stevens and his sidekick, Aki, chased the second man west of the motel. Stevens followed his dog along Bernice Avenue, U.S. 11 and back through the Bernice Avenue area before finding the man hiding in a woodpile.

On another chase last year, the K-9 unit spent about six hours searching through woods and fields in the Hedgesville area before police found a man who allegedly fled from a controlled drug purchase in the parking lot of City Hospital near Martinsburg.


Not all police departments have police dogs, but Sgt. Shannon Armel doesn't know what he would do without them.

"A lot of people consider it a luxury, I consider it a necessity," Armel said.

Come June 3, the public can get a close look at how police dogs operate when Berkeley County hosts its first regional K-9 competition for police dog units.

Up to 60 K-9 teams from the U.S. Capital Police, Montgomery County Police Department, Prince George's County Police Department and others from Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland are expected to participate, said Armel, who is involved in the training and management of Martinsburg's K-9 team.

It is the first time the U.S. Police Canine Association Region PD 1 Field Trials have come to West Virginia.

To prepare for the three-day event at Poor House Farm Park, Armel, Sheetz and Stevens have been working for weeks building wooden boxes and other obstacles that will be used in the contest.

The K-9 units will compete in three areas, including obedience and agility, criminal apprehension and evidence and suspect searches. In the suspect search, the dogs will be judged on how effective they are at finding a man in one of six boxes set up on the course, Armel said.

Martinsburg Police have fared well in the annual competition, winning a first-place tracking award and a "Triple Crown" award for excellence in the three areas of competition, said Armel.

The K-9 units who come to the competition work in a variety of environments. While the metropolitan K-9 units work hot, crowded city streets, the ones from rural areas such as Berkeley County find themselves scattered across farmland and running through small towns.

Armel jokes that the Berkeley County units are a force to be reckoned with when they "come down off the mountain" to compete with other departments.

The Martinsburg K-9 units are a vital part of the department's law enforcement efforts, handing about 500 calls a year for assistance, Armel said. The dogs can go into dark, dangerous buildings to search for suspects. Often times, a fight or other disturbance will break up quickly when the parties involved hear the K-9 unit arriving with the barking dog barking, Armel said.

"Every day, they stop more crime than you can imagine."

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