Interview – K9 Officer Employment

You’ve probably seen plenty of K9 Officers, patrolling airports and school zones, always with their dog by their side.K9 Officer Mike Bagnell spends part of his time working for a privatized prison corporation as a Corrections K9 Officer and also works as a Police Reserve K9 Officer for local police agencies, sheriff departments, jails and prisons.

No matter where he’s on duty, Mike never leaves for work without his partner, a Belgian Tervuren named Abby.

What is an average day of work like for you?

My day begins at home as I have to feed my K9 Partner and then clean out her Kennel. Once that is completed I head to my work place, which can be at one of the four prisons I cover. They are from 30 minutes to 4 hours from my home. I usually visit each of the prisons at least once a week. If other jails or prisons need K9 services I also go there.

At work I meet with the supervisor on call, discuss what is needed or requested for the day.  This involves searching employees/visitors’ vehicles, the employees using a barrier screen to protect them from the K9, searching housing areas (cells/dorms), common Area searches (offices, multi-purpose rooms, chapel, gyms, etc.), mail/packages, and facility grounds.  If I am working with the Police Department, we are used for warrant searches, suspect vehicles, and  school locker searches.

Tell me about your dog. How long have you been working with her?

My partner is a Belgian Tervuren, named Abby. She has been certified with NNDDA (National Narcotic Detector Dog Association) annually for three years.  She can alert to the presences of marijuana, meth, heroine, cocaine, ecstasy, dauladid, and any derivative of each…

Recently, she and I attended a K9 course to allow her to alert to the presence of cellular phones and accessories. This is needed in the prison system because cell phones are not monitored and can be used to conduct criminal activities unknown to administration. She alerts differently to the cell phone than the Narcotics, so I can tell what she is alerting on.

What inspired you to pursue your career? Did you always want to be a K9 officer?

I was in correctional counseling prior to trying out for the K9 division.  I felt that an honest person should hold the position as a K9 Officer, and not ever being involved with Narcotics in my youth, I was the person for the job…I never thought I would become a K9 officer before seeing the job posting but thought it would be a great opportunity to provide a service for the safety and security of prisons and the community.

What educational and work background did you have prior to entering the field? Did you start out in a different branch of law enforcement before becoming a K9 officer?

I had obtained my associates degree in Criminal Justice – Law Enforcement before starting the K9 Position, but have since received a bachelors degree in Criminal Justice and am currently attending courses to get my masters degree in Global Issues of Criminal Law. I served five years with the U.S. Army Military Police Corp in Korea, Panama, and Ft. Lewis, Washington. Working along side military working dogs during my tour of duty, I found the ability of the K9’s interesting, but didn’t thought I would ever be a K9 handler at that time.

What requirements did you have to meet to be eligible for your job?

To be considered for the position: two or more years of experience in a corrections job or law enforcement, be able to be on call 24 hours a day for a period of at least two years, be able to travel on a limited notice, and pass a physical fitness test (U.S. Marines Standards).

What sort of training did you go through for the job? Did you and your dog undergo training together, as a team? Can you tell us about the training your dog did?

The initial training consisted of a 4-week course which included obedience, narcotic work, narcotic identification, K9 case law, policy and procedures. On the anniversary of the initial training/certification we attend a week long “update” course in Mississippi which includes advanced K9 training and annual certification.

On a weekly basis, we train eight hours on narcotics – vehicle, warehouse, locker, open area, etc.

What do you like about your job?

I like the fact that I have the ability to remove narcotics and cell phones from the prison system. In the past year, Abby has found over two pounds of narcotics in prisons, schools, and community areas, and 12 cell phones. Also, being in the public eye I can represent the K9 Division in a professional and ethical manner.

What do you dislike about your job?

There is a lot of paper work involved with K9 – due to policy and laws. Forms include two daily reports, two weekly reports, and four monthly reports…I spend about five to six hours a week on the required forms, and more time than that when I make a find.

Please describe an exciting incident you’ve experienced in your work.

About three months ago I was walking Abby through the facility’s visitation gallery and we sat down for a few minutes to observe a class that was being held there.

She began to get excited about something, so I let her lead go and she ran across the huge room and dove behind a vending machine. I walked over to her to see what she was so interested in. Inside the machine was a package containing tobacco and a small amount of marijuana, approximately 10 gms.

I was proud to see that Abby, without the command of search, smelled the small amount of narcotics across a room full of people. The vending machine fan had turned on so it disturbed the odor and she caught it in the air and responded.  That is what I consider a great dog – always working, always alert.

Have you ever been exposed to violent or dangerous situations while on the job?

On a daily basis. Working in the atmosphere of a prison which is filled with convicted felons, we are always alert to their moods and actions. When a situation occurs we are expected to get in the middle of it to stop injuries, and to attempt to stop the situation from getting worse.

What advice do you have for young people looking to break into your line of work?

I feel that a good work ethic, respect of leaders, and the ability to adapt quickly is important to this job. Start by working hard towards educational and personal excellence and the rest will fall into place. Simply, get what you want out life yourself – don’t let others do it for you.

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