JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – When the members of the Leadership Johns Creek Class of 2017 reached out to Police Chief Ed Densmore to build a K-9 training facility, neither they nor the chief had any idea what that request would mean.
Leadership Johns Creek is a program of the Johns Creek Chamber of Commerce with the mission to build future leaders for the city. It is a nine-month immersion into learning about local government and the local institutions that create the fabric of community.
They also split up into teams to find, develop and execute a project of some lasting benefit to the community. Calling themselves Team Visionaries, the eight members decided on building an obstacle-training facility for the Police Department.
Team member Kimberly Greer said they had been reading about the drug problem in Johns Creek and wanted to do something that would help police in a tangible way.
“I approached [Johns Creek] Police Chief Ed Densmore to ask him what we could to help in drug interdiction,” Greer said. “He led us to Officer W. Goins who heads the K-9 unit with its shoestring budget.”
The idea quickly morphed into building an obstacle course for the dogs’ training.
First, they needed some dedicated space, around 600 square feet at least. For that, Greer went to her boss City Manager Warren Hutmacher. With 132 acres of parkland awaiting development, that could be K-9ers home for now.
“Then Officer Goins gave us some drawings of the kinds of obstacles he needed,” Greer said.
Again drawing on the resources of others, the Visionaries knew Leadership Johns Creek Director Lynne Canty’s husband Greg Canty is involved with Scouting, specifically Eagle Scout projects. So they “volunteered” Canty to help turn the drawings into 12 workable training obstacles.
Fundraising was just another obstacle to be overcome. First, the team created a Go Fund Me account to raise money to buy the materials, and from there it began to snowball.
The Atlanta Retailers Association gave $10,000 to the project, and the Visionaries raised $22,000 all told. Of that amount, $10,000 went for the fence, 100 feet by 200 feet, giving the dogs a half-acre to work in.
Officer Goins said the new facility is a godsend for the K-9 program. He said they were like gypsies trying to find a place to train.
“Prior to getting this, all the 16 hours of training were done where people allowed us to use their property. We had to force whatever space we had to fit our needs,” Goins said. “Now we have the facilities to train the dogs the way we want.”
And that is not just for JCPD dogs. K-9 units from all over metro Atlanta will be able to schedule training time. It has the added benefit of creating inter-agency opportunities for the different K-9 units to train together.
The obstacles are an important part of the dogs’ training. They must learn things normal dogs would never do on their own – climb ladders, jump through a window without knowing what is beyond.
Of course the dramatic part of training is to seize and hold a suspect.
Johns Creek firefighter Aaron Roberts is one of the volunteers who will wear a bite suit – the padded outerwear when dogs are trained to seize a suspect.
The bite suit ensures the “target” doesn’t get injured. But it is still an unpleasant encounter at best.
“It’s like getting tackled by a linebacker,” Roberts said. “But the dog doesn’t let go. You feel every square inch of that bite.”
So why does he do it? It helps that his wife is a K-9 officer.
Most often the dogs are called upon to track not bad guys but missing children and the elderly who wander off and get lost.
They also learn to sniff out drugs and “alert” (stare) at the source of the odor. For that they get a reward – a tennis ball to chew.
Police Chief Densmore called the facility “pretty awesome” and a valuable asset.
While the K-9ers appear to be a luxury for any enforcement agency, Densmore says the dogs add huge capabilities to his department.
Not only are they invaluable for finding lost youngsters and oldsters, in those rare cases when a suspect is involved they are a “difference maker.”
“The officers are put in an apprehensive situation involving a suspect who doesn’t want to surrender. A good outcome is when no one gets hurt,” Densmore said.
“Usually, the dog will end it right there. It’s a de-escalation tool. When the dog is brought up, most people just lie on the ground.”