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      Cops hunt down suspect, drugs during K-9 certification

      By Nikki Gaskinsngaskins@abcnews4.com

      BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCIV) Officers in Berkeley County spent the day hunting down an armed suspect while using their K-9s to sniff out cocaine in an old car.

      But it was all part of special training required for officers and their dogs throughout South Carolina and the country.

      The Berkeley County Sheriff's Office is hosting this year's K-9 certification in conjunction with the North American Police Dog Association.

      "We have people here from Maryland, Florida and then, of course, all across the state," said Lt. Jeremy Baker, who heads the K-9 division with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office.

      This year, Baker says 40 dogs are being put to the test in the Francis Marion National Forest on Witherbee Road in Bethera. The training started on Monday and will officially wrap up on Friday.

      On Thursday, a mock scenario unfolded as one officer attempted to take down a wanted man. However, the suspect fired back at the officer while his four-legged partner calmly stood by.

      "In the aggression control scenario, in order to certify, you have to be able to have your dog next to you in either a down or sit position, and you have to be able to talk to the decoy which simulates a suspect," said Sgt. Robert Heverly with Prince George's County Police.

      Heverly is one of five trainers from Maryland taking part in this week's K-9 certification that officers must undergo once a year.

      "The main thing I'm looking for as a trainer is that they have control over their dog and that the dog listens to the commands at all times and it does not do what it wants to do. It does what it's told to do," said Heverly.

      In another scenario, the K-9s are required to located drugs in an unfamiliar home as well as an abandoned car. Within minutes, the dogs locate cocaine and ecstasy and pass the test.

      "In the first couple of days, if the officers have issues with their dog, we will pull them out of the certification and go into training, and we'll work on that dog until the dog becomes proficient," said Heverly.

      The Berkeley County Sheriff's Office currently has six dogs they use to help deputies fight crime.

      Baker says training like this helps them as well as their fellow officers keep the communities they patrol safer.

      He says the sheriff's office hosts the certification training with their agency every three years; however, their officers as well as other departments do their own regular training with their dogs to prepare them for certification.

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