BARKER – When Officer Tim Braughler was hired by the Village of Barker’s police force earlier this year, he brought with him a dimension to local law enforcement that a small department like Barker’s would never be able to afford on its own – a K-9 unit.
Braughler is the owner/handler of Warrant, a handsome, nearly 4-year-old Czech shepherd, certified in narcotics detection.
“Barker doesn’t have the high volume of crime and drug problems the cities have – but it’s there,” Braughler said. “When I’m on duty in Barker, Warrant’s with me. He has a presence and I think it serves as a real deterrent.
“We’ve visited the schools, and the school parking lots,” he said. “And we’re available to assist other agencies, as well.”
How common are K-9 units in Niagara County? The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office has one that includes three full-time deputies with specially trained dogs, as well as another, volunteer special deputy and his dog, according to Lt. James Hildreth.
Hildreth said the cities of North Tonawanda and Lockport, as well as the Town of Lewiston each have an officer and specially trained dog. They join the six officers and their dogs rotating among the three international bridges in Lewiston and Niagara Falls for U.S. Customs, and a trooper and his dog covering this zone for the State Police.
And Hildreth said the Sheriff’s Office offers reciprocal services throughout Niagara County and any other county in need, adding that it even responded to 9/11 in New York City.
“If we can assist, we will,” he said.
Barker Police Chief W. Ross Annable, who hired Braughler, said it was a rare opportunity for a small, part-time force that he couldn’t pass up.
“When we hired Tim, we hired someone with a working, certified dog, who had paid for this on his own, and it has opened up a whole new resource we’ve never had,” Annable said.
“There are drug problems everywhere – everything you find in the big cities, you find here on a smaller scale,” the chief added. “We’ve always had marijuana, but heroin is starting to show up and we’ve had more meth recently, as well as prescription drugs.”
Braughler has been a police officer since 2002 and is also employed full-time for a state law enforcement agency based in Buffalo, but Warrant only joins him for work in Barker.
He marveled at Warrant’s ability to know when it’s time to go to work and when it isn’t.
“In fact, he has learned the difference between my belts and vests and knows by my gear when I am getting ready to go to Barker,” Braughler said. “He gets amped up and knows it’s time to go to work. He chases me around the house and looks for his duty collar.”
Braughler and his wife, Christy, who also works in law enforcement, took Warrant into their home as a puppy.
“When we first saw him, he was the size of my hand,” said Braughler. “Now he’s about 100 pounds.”
“We had family dogs through the years,” Christy said. “We had lost our (last) family dog and decided it was time to get a police dog. Warrant is very protective of our home and family, but very sweet and gentle. He even plays with our grandson, who is almost 6.
“We’ve had to make adjustments to having a police dog in our home,” she added. “Not all police dogs live with a family, even if an officer takes it home. The dog might live outside in a kennel. But it was important to me that this dog be a family dog, too.
“It’s different, because I have to be careful, I can’t just give him treats, for example,” Christy said. “He has to earn everything. He has to do something in order to be rewarded.”
The Braughlers purchased Warrant from Phillips Command Dogs in Olean, where he continued to receive his first training as a puppy. These costs were largely borne by the Braughlers, while they were working for a police agency in the Southtowns, where Braughler headed up a K-9 unit.
“Sometimes the dogs are already trained when the officers get them, but because we got Warrant as a puppy, Tim and Warrant built this bond,” Christy said. “I think it made the training easier. Warrant is so excited to work for Tim and it makes him so happy.”
When he turned 1, Warrant continued his training with O’Malley’s K9 Services in Buffalo, where he and Braughler still work with Mike Zepecki.
“Warrant got his narcotics detection certification two years ago through O’Malley’s and is working on certification in tracking, and in patrol work, which includes aggression/bite work,” Braughler said. “Mike trains military dogs and goes all over the world to do it. The training Mike has given Warrant and me is just amazing.”
Braughler said it’s important to note that the handler is trained just as carefully as the dog, and he credits his wife with being able to “fill in and help out” when he’s absent due to his unpredictable work schedule.
While Warrant needs to follow a pretty strict regimen in order to preserve his specialized training, both Braughlers are quick to point out that, like any healthy young dog, he also needs down time to play and exercise.
“That’s what’s nice about Barker – there’s a lot of room and I can work on training him while I’m there, like with tracking work, for example,” Braughler said. “I can also take him to isolated areas and just let him run.”
Braughler noted that Warrant must recertify at least once a year in narcotics detection. He told a story about an incident last year when Warrant was seeking recertification that led the pair through various vehicles and buildings.
“We had no idea where the drugs were hidden,” he recalled. “We go to this paint factory and Warrant takes me right up to the second floor, and all the way to the back. I’m panicking. I thought, ‘Oh, no. He’s going to blow it on his final day. Why is he taking me all of the way back here?’ All I can smell is paint fumes.
“But we get all of the way to the back and he started hitting on the drugs,” Braughler said. “I could tell that even the instructor was extremely impressed. Of course, I was very proud. And Warrant just does this in a quick and easy manner and enjoys every minute that he’s working.”
Christy added that, along with good training and constant reinforcement, something else is at play with a successful police dog.
“Not every dog can do this kind of work,” she noted. “You really take a chance with a puppy. You don’t know if all of their senses are intact.”
“That’s right,” added Braughler. “Some departments will make huge investments of time and money and the dog just doesn’t have what it takes. We’ve been blessed with Warrant.”
Hildreth said tracking is the most sought-after talent these skilled dogs provide at the sheriff’s office, “for missing people, including children, or adults with Alzheimer’s or mental illnesses. And we use the dogs for tracking suspects fleeing a crime scene.
“We’ve been very, very active lately, with robberies and burglaries,” Hildreth noted. “And there have been times that we haven’t been available to go on all of our calls and have had to request mutual aid.”
Hildreth said the dogs also do plenty of “detective work, including narcotics detection and explosives detection, as well as building and open area searches, for suspects, for example.”
The dogs also are used for crowd control and evidence recovery. Tactical response is another use for these dogs’ talents, working alongside SWAT teams. And Hildreth said the sheriff’s office began working last year with the U.S. Coast Guard on a new Western New York Maritime Tactical Operation Group.
“There is also the public relations,” said Hildreth, who has been involved with K-9 units for 21 years. “People love these dogs and want to talk to us about them. It’s really nice, especially these days, to be able to do this in a positive manner. Whether the dogs are pettable or not, it’s nice to be able to have these conversations.”