CLAYTON — The Clayton police department is training the newest member of its force, a canine unit.
Two-year-old “Major” is a German Shepherd, originally from Germany, who is training with officer Justin Vause. The two will officially hit the streets as a team in May.
“He’s going to be doing searches for people and protection work,” said Vause. “He’ll be doing anything from searching for a missing child, to finding a missing person from a nursing home, or finding subjects who fled on foot after a bank robbery.”
The department’s former police dog, Justice, retired in October, after a couple months out of commission because of a medical condition during the summer. By the time Major starts his duties, the department will have been without a police dog for almost a year. In some cases, the department has called in canines from other departments to perform searches.
That was the case in January when the Clayton Police Department called in the Wake County Sheriff’s Department’s Canine Unit with about six dogs to help search for a man who fled on foot after stealing a television from Wal-Mart on U.S. 70. Major would help out with those kinds of searches in the future.
Major and Vause have been training together for about 40 hours a week for the past month in Wilson at Enforcement Canine, a canine law enforcement training center run by a Wilson police officer.
Vause says he has already been able to observe one of the dog’s specialties during the training. “He’s really good at article searches such as, if a suspect were to run from an officer and drop a gun,” said Vause. “Every time in training he’s found an article in less than a minute or so.”
Vause was one of three officers from the Clayton department who applied to be a canine officer. Canine handlers from other police departments reviewed and interviewed the applicants and found Vause was the best fit.
“It’s always been one of my career goals and I saw how much fun the other canine officers had,” Vause said.
Not only did the department get a new officer, Vause’s family has also gotten a new member. The dog is already living with Vause and his wife and daughter. Vause said they are all excited about the new dog, but while Major is in training he has to limit his social interaction with everybody.
Major cost about $7,000 and the additional equipment: cages, leashes, kennel, handling gear, and equipping cost another $5-6,000 - for a total of about $13,000, according to town spokeswoman Stacy Beard. Much of the equipment used with former police dog Justice needed to be replaced after five years of heavy use.
Vause’s police car will be upgraded to accomodate the dog. His patrol car will be equipped with an automatic door that Vause can open remotely. In somewhat of a Batman, high-tech fashion, if he’s doing a traffic stop and gets into trouble with the person he’s pulled over, Vause can hit the remote on his duty belt that will open the door and let Major out to come to his aid. Canines are trained for officer protection.
The new features will also help protect Major. The car will have both an automatic fan, and a car alarm wired to go off the car overheats, signaling that the dog needs help. The sirens, horns, and lights will all go off if the car overheats.
Police Chief Glen Allen is considering putting in a request for a second police dog in the budget for next year.
“Every canine handler can do the functions that every other officer does, and if we put the two K-9 officers on opposite shifts, we could readily have a dog available if needed 24 hours a day,” Allen said.
It is uncertain how long Major will serve with the department. The last police dog was with the Clayton police for five years. Allen said he has seen dogs in his experience serve 10 years with a department.
In the past, the police dog has helped his human parnters track suspects and detect illegal drugs. One high-profile case involving the last police dog occurred when he helped detectives locate 86 pounds of marijuana in packages that came through the mail at the UPS store in Clayton.