This weekend, rain or shine, dozens of dogs are going to be hard at work tackling bad guys, sniffing out drugs and navigating stressful environments to test their poise.
But these aren’t just any dogs. They’re K9 officers working for police departments across the Midwest. And they’re competing for the best marks in the sixth annual Heartland Police Canine Competition.
Ushering in the competition is Heartland Police K9 Training and Trials, a weeklong training series by the National Police Canine Association’s North Central Region for K9 officers and their handlers. Leading that training and the competition is Sgt. Ryan Sumner with the Lenexa Police Department K9 Unit.
“We bring outside instructors in, and it makes these guys better,” Sumner said. “These dogs are out there to protect you, protect businesses, protect all the citizens. My goal is just to make everybody better, which better protects our communities.”
Sumner said he started the K9 training and competition six years ago with this goal in mind.
“We train until we’re done; my schedule’s from 8 to 5 but if there’s handlers that still need some more work, those instructors will stay till 7 or 8 o’clock at night and work with them,” he added. “And none of these instructors get paid.”
Some of the closed-door training sessions this year included scenario-based training at Oceans of Fun, tracking exercises at Kansas City Regional Police Academy and in parks across Kansas City, Missouri, and bomb dog training at various locations.
Sumner said the sessions get local K9 units like Lenexa’s unit the most up-to-date training available. Lenexa has three K9 officers: a Dutch shepherd named Kobi, and two Belgian Malinois, Ram and Leo. Combined, the dogs and handlers have at least 12 years’ worth of experience.
K9 officers and their handlers from police departments across the metro area, including the Lenexa Police Department, close this year’s training series with the Heartland Police Canine Competition. Sumner said he hopes the event will provide the public with a glimpse at the skills of police K9 officers, but also allow an opportunity to interact with police officers in a positive environment, which builds trust and community.
“It gives us a chance to show off the dogs and have a little bit of fun with the public,” Sumner said. “It’s good interaction with citizens of each of our cities.”
Rain or shine, this year’s competition features 35 K9 officers. It starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 5 at the Kansas City Missouri Police Department South Patrol Station, 9701 Marion Park Drive, Kansas City, Missouri. The event is free and open to the public.
During the competition, K9 officers will navigate a stress obedience patrol course with distractions like blank gunfire. They must also jump over, through and under obstacles, and perform bite-work.
“The whole competition is all excitement: a lot of dog fights on the decoys and the bite suits,” Sumner said adding that attendance continues to grow each year, with about 300 to 400 spectators last year.
This year’s competition includes a raffle. All donations support $9,000 worth of training expenses for next year’s training series. Raffle prizes include an autographed KC Chiefs football, autographed University of Kansas basketball.
The event also includes a free lunch of brats, hot dogs, chips and water. Sumner recommends spectators bring lawn chairs to watch the competition.