The bond between a dog and its owner goes deep. The same is true, if not even more so, for K-9 officer handlers. K-9 officers and their handlers — who are most often law enforcement officers themselves — work together to keep their communities safe, so protecting them in the workplace is crucial. Public sector fleet managers can play a role in this.
Keeping K-9 Patrol Vehicles in Working Condition
While it’s important to maintain all public sector fleet vehicles, there should be a greater emphasis on K-9 patrol vehicles. That’s the message from AceK9’s owner, John Johnston. AceK9 offers technology aimed at ensuring working police dogs are always safe in their officer-handlers’ vehicles. We’ll talk about the technology in a moment.
First, we need to focus on the vehicles the technology is housed in. When a K-9 officer-handler is working, they are not only caring for their own wellbeing, they are also caring for their dog.
“You’ve got to put a little bit of extra effort into your K-9 cars, because they do have these situations where their K-9s can be left alone by themselves. So it's extra important that you maintain good air conditioning and good maintenance in general on that car,” Johnston explained.
Performing regular preventive maintenance on these vehicles and doing checks of components like the A/C unit’s blower motor and compressor are ways to help guarantee the vehicle is in working condition.
More than likely, K-9 officer-handlers already take better care of their vehicles because they are aware they have to care for their K-9 partners. But it’s always worth reminding these officers to do regular vehicle checks to make sure everything is working properly. If the vehicle breaks down, so will the air conditioning unit that’s keeping the dog cool on hot days.
Using Technology to Keep K-9s Safe
That’s where technology comes in. AceK9’s AceWatchDog service product works by automatically rolling the windows down and turning on a large fan that brings in outside air to ventilate the vehicle, and activates the horn, siren, and lights if the interior temperature reaches a certain threshold. It also notifies the dog’s handler and emergency dispatch operators through a mobile cellular system.
Not only does the technology alert the officer-handler when the alarm is activated by a high interior temperature, it also texts them warnings for warm temperatures and provides them constant access to see the vehicle’s internal temperature and other safety parameters.
Even with this technology installed, it’s still important for fleet managers to ensure the vehicle itself is in working condition. Having multiple ways to protect the K-9 adds an extra bit of security for the dog, and peace of mind for its handler.
When the Worst-Case Scenario Happens
Unfortunately, accidents do happen. In recent months, two K-9 officers have died in hot cars. On June 12, Houston Police K-9 Aron died when the engine stalled causing the A/C to stop cooling. However, the heat detection system installed in his vehicle apparently malfunctioned as well, according to Police Magazine. Houston Police reported that all vehicles used to transport K-9s would be immediately inspected to ensure all the systems are working properly.
The previous week, Cobb County, Georgia, Police K-9 Chase died when the same thing happened in his vehicle. Officers were attending a scheduled active shooter training at a local school at the time. The dog’s handler had done multiple checks of the dog during the drill, but at some point, the vehicle equipment failed and the dog overheated.
A department spokesperson told Government Fleet that the factory air conditioning in the vehicle stopped working; the heat alarm system failed to roll down the windows and the horn did not activate like it was supposed to.
As a result of the death, the Cobb County Police Department is installing AceK9’s AceWatchDog service technology in all of its vehicles. Because the system is cellular-based as opposed to the department’s previous pager alert system, the notification to the handler will be more reliable.
Additionally, the department is installing small cameras in all of its K-9 vehicles so the handlers can access a livestream of the K-9 officer anytime they are away from them.
Heat alarm systems work very well when maintained and tested properly. Using them has saved thousands of police K-9s over the 40 years they have been in use. It is an extremely rare condition for both the heat alarm and the engine or cooling system to fail at the same time. This is why it’s important to test the heat alarm system weekly and maintain the vehicle’s cooling system and general maintenance to the highest degree possible in a K-9 vehicle.
“The main thing is to try to learn something from this,” Johnston said. “Make sure you maintain your electronics, no matter which brand, and you maintain your vehicle as well.”
Maintaining Your K-9 Vehicle Safety Technology
These deaths, while heartbreaking, can serve as a good reminder for public sector fleet managers to do checks of the technology if they already have it installed, or purchase the technology if they don’t.
Johnston urges K-9 officer-handlers to do regular (weekly) checks of whatever backup heat alerting product they have installed in their vehicles to make sure they work properly.
“Be very proactive to make sure that whatever system that you have — whether it's ours or it's another brand — that you test it and you make sure that everything is working as expected,” Johnston advised.
To drive the message home, every time the AceK9 product powers on, it has a text reminder on it for handlers to check it weekly to make sure it is working properly.
Johnston also emphasized the importance of keeping K-9 officer vehicles in working order. For public sector fleet managers, that means performing preventive maintenance and checking components that are crucial to the vehicle’s operation.
They can mean the difference between life and death.