TREASURE VALLEY - K-9 police officers are crucial tools for law enforcement officers in dangerous situations - and they are a crucial part of those officers' families.
Everyone at the Boise Police Department is grieving the loss of K-9 officer Jardo, who passed away Wednesday night. He was shot in the chest in the line of duty November 11 searching for a wanted suspect on the Central Rim in Boise.
While the loss is extremely tough for the department, it is even tougher for the dog's handler and his family. It has been apparent this last week that the bond between a K-9 and their handler is incredibly strong.
K-9's are sent out on some of the most intense calls that police get - from busting drugs, to tracking down suspects. They go in front of officers as the first line of defense that oftentimes saves officers' lives.
"There's a great bond," Meridian Police Lt. Berle Stokes said. "The dog becomes a member of the family."
It's a special kind of relationship: a partnership. But unlike the bond with your dog at home, police officers say they are always worries about the safety of the dog.
"The purpose of the K-9 is a tool," Nampa Police Officer Tyler Gray told KTVB.
"Their primary job is locating suspects for us," Lt. Stokes said. "So they use their nose to locate bad guys."
Whether it's searching a building or a vehicle, K-9's go ahead of the officers and reduce the risk for them and the public.
Police say most of the criminals they encounter or challenge with the dog give up simply because of the dog's presence, which usually lessens the likelihood that a situation will turn violent.
"They are definitely a force multiplier for the agency and for law enforcement," Officer Gray said.
Police K-9's live with their handlers, go on patrol with them and spend countless hours training with them. Even off duty, they are typically by their side.
"You don't just go home from having a K-9," Gray added.
Police K-9's come from vendors in the U.S. that typically import them from Europe, such as Belgian Malanois, or German Shepherds on the force. Local police departments say the dogs are usually about 15 to 18 months old when officers get them.
"Hitting the street at about maybe 2 years old,2 and a half years old, and they can work up to be 10 years old. So we get seven to eight years of service out of these dogs," Lt. Stokes said.
Officers on local K-9 divisions agree: It's the best division in law enforcement.
"It's the most fun I have ever had being a police officer, was handling a dog. I can tell you that," Lt. Stokes added.
Meridian police says the department pairs K-9's with handlers through an internal process where they try to find officers they know like dogs and are willing to commit to training them.
It is also not uncommon for handlers to have multiple dogs over the span of their career, or vice-versa.
The board of the Idaho Peace Officers Memorial is considering putting up a K-9 memorial.
The board president told KTVB that even before the tragedy with Jardo, it had been on their agenda to explore the idea.
Like the current memorial, there would be certain criteria the K-9 officer's death would have to meet - specifically whether they died in the line of duty.