K9 units and their handlers are padding around Jefferson City this week for the Missouri Police Canine Association's (MPCA) annual fall workshop.
Teams of handlers and canines from various law enforcement agencies meet yearly to train, network and more with MPCA trainers and other law enforcement agencies.
Paul Gash, a K9 officer with the Jefferson City Police Department (JCPD) Community Action Team, said 45-50 teams are in attendance this year. Those teams are from across Missouri, including Boone County, Independence, Cass County, Oak Grove, Linn, Stoddard County, Odessa, Jefferson City and more.
Gash said the workshop takes place in a different city each year.
At the workshop, K9s and their handlers have the opportunity to get training and even certification for drug detection, obedience, aggression control, tracking, article search, area search and explosive detection.
Gash said around 20 trainers are getting certifications this year.
These training sessions aren't short or simple. That's why the workshop lasts six days, from Sunday to Friday, with daily activities stretching from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Gash said this allows trainers to go to every venue and engage in all the training sessions they can.
Drug detection training, for example, has three components: vehicle, building and either luggage, lockers or open area searches.
For vehicle detection, K9 units are instructed to check five cars for drugs. Each car has several hiding spots, one of which is empty. Dogs have to find the drugs and alert where they are. That's one stage. Each unit must do a similar search in luggage, lockers or an open area, as well as in rooms in a building.
Each stage has about five "hides," and K9 units are only allowed to miss one out of 12 total to get certified.
Drug detection and the workshop's other activities are being held at venues across the city, including Lincoln University Police Academy, Hyde Park and Binder Park.
Gash and Cody Scheuler, another JCPD K9 officer, started making preparations for the workshop in January, Gash said.
"It was kind of a year-long process of getting everything lined out. I have to say, without the help of the community this wouldn't have been possible," Gash said.
He said various vendors from the community helped make the workshop possible. Organizations including Lincoln University and Jefferson City Parks provided venues for training, Courtyard by Marriott let dogs stay on its premises and nearly 20 different local businesses sponsored raffle items or provided other resources.
Nine Missouri trainers selected by the MPCA lead the workshop, Gash said. These trainers have to have a certain number of completed trainings or apprentice hours under an approved tutor to become a trainer.
Gash is a trainer himself, but since he and the rest of the Community Action Team are running the workshop, they aren't participating as instructors or participants.
"The entire Community Action Team is assisting with logistics. They're running around facilitating things trainers need, like we just had a car overheat. We're putting out fires as they kick off. We have to do host business as opposed to enjoying the training venues, but it's our turn so it's something we have to do," Gash said.
Two days of the workshop have been completed, but there's still several to go. Gash asked that citizens not approach or interject if they see K9 units training around town.
"Just let them get the training they're here to receive. And I'd like to reiterate our thanks to the community and its support for law enforcement in general, let alone the canines," he added.