Meet the Unified Police Department K-9 Unit

k-9 UnitOn March 13th this year, police departments and military units across the country honored K-9 Veteran’s Day. This holiday commemorates working dogs’ service throughout the American history. To help pay tribute to these dedicated dogs, Advocate attorney Chris Thresher sat down with Sergeant Ryan Watson and his K-9 partner Cash during our Community Advocates segment on Good Things Utah. Sgt. Watson explained the role of the UPD’s K-9 Unit and answered some frequently asked questions to help the community become better acquainted with the law enforcement teams that serve our community. 

Who Are Sergeant Watson and Cash? 

Sgt. Watson has been a police officer for nearly 20 years, with experience in patrol, detective work, and SWAT. He joined the UPD’s K-9 Unit about seven years ago. As the unit supervisor and lead trainer, he oversees five K-9 teams. He cites K-9 work as his favorite assignment of his career, finding it both challenging and rewarding.  

Cash is a seven-year-old German Shepherd. He and Sgt. Watson have been working together since Cash was one year old. Cash is a dual-purpose K-9, meaning that he is trained to locate illegal substances as well as apprehend suspects. He uses his sense of smell to detect both narcotics and humans in a variety of places, including vehicles, buildings, fields, and neighborhoods.  

In 2020, Sgt. Watson and Cash were recognized by Friends for UPD K-9 as the UPD K-9 Team of the Year. They work together to lead the unit with dedication, collaboration, and high professional standards. 

What Does the K-9 Unit Do? 

K-9 officers are both police officers and trained dog handlers. Each officer is paired with a canine partner, who is trained in-house by the UPD. Police dogs live with their handlers, and the handler makes sure the dog is properly trained, cared for, and healthy. Cash is part of the Watson family, and he enjoys time off at home just as much as Sgt. Watson does. K-9s know when they are working and when they are off duty, meaning they are perfectly safe around children and strangers. In fact, playing with people and other dogs helps the K-9s gain important social skills.  

The duties of K-9s are varied, depending on the unit. Police dogs can be trained to track down illegal substances, explosives, missing persons, and bodies. K-9s can also assist in day-to-day operations, such as traffic stops or emergencies. The UPD K-9 Unit works a graveyard shift from 6:00 pm to 4:00 am every night. The teams can also be called out during daytime hours. 

Our UPD K-9 Unit is also active in community events. Over the last several years, the UPD has participated in the Festival of Trees, the Soldier Hollow Sheepdog Championships, and in many police dog demonstrations for schools, church groups, and businesses. The teams enjoy holding these demonstrations because they are effective learning tools for the public, and the officers appreciate the chance to interact with community members.  

How Does a Dog Become a Police K-9? 

Not just any dog can work as a police dog. A K-9 needs to have specific personality traits, as well as physical attributes. Most of the dogs on the UPD K-9 team are German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, or mixes of the two breeds. These dogs are herding breeds that are highly loyal. They were acquired from a variety of countries across Europe, including Germany, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. 

Before the UPD’s dogs could begin police work, they had to undergo rigorous physical checks and temperament tests to ensure they were able to reliably perform the job of a K-9. 

At around one or two years of age, the dogs are ready to begin training with our UPD officers. The dogs train full-time for several months to become certified for police work. After they are certified, they continue to train daily until retirement. The UPD’s K-9s work regularly on obedience, endurance, agility, and specialty training. 

The UPD has both single-purpose and dual-purpose K-9s. Like Cash, dual-purpose K-9s are trained in two areas of police work—narcotic detection and suspect apprehension. Single-purpose dogs are only trained in one of these areas. 

After seven or eight years of service, K-9s usually retire. In most cases, the dog will continue to live with his handler after retirement. The UPD’s dogs are truly part of their handler’s families. 

Who Are the Friends of UPD K-9? 

Friends of UPD K-9 is a non-profit organization that helps support the K-9 unit. They raise money to help the teams with a variety of expenses. First and foremost, they assist the UPD with purchasing service animals, as the dogs are typically in high demand. They also help provide ballistic vests, paw protection, harnesses, leashes, and more for the K-9s. Additionally, “Friends” gives the K-9 teams the opportunity to attend and host trainings throughout Utah. The organization also helps supplement medical care for retired K-9s. 

The Friends of UPD K-9 accept donations through their website or by mail. Their mailing address is 2376 Cinnabar Lane, Salt Lake City, Utah 84121. Their website also provides more information about the K-9 unit, including spotlights on the five other UPD K-9 partnerships.  

The Advocates would like to express our sincere thanks to the Unified Police Department K-9 teams for their service. We appreciate their dedication and commitment to the safety and wellbeing of our communities.  

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