Out on a small island toward the southern end of Lake Lanier, a “suspect” in American flag shorts swam ashore after eluding officers on a chase.
Warden, a 20-month-old Belgian Malinois, was about to lay down the law.
Gwinnett County Police hosted a training session Wednesday, Sept. 30, on the south end of the lake near Buford Dam Park.
Officer Aaron Carlyle said the annual training is to help dogs and their handlers prepare for a potential search that involves getting into the water. Law enforcement from Snellville, Duluth and Athens-Clarke County were in attendance.
“We’d rather train this and never have to use it but know that the dogs are capable of doing this,” Carlyle said.
Though they have not had a similar call to the training done Wednesday, Carlyle said they are available to help out Hall and Forsyth counties’ law enforcement should the need arise. Only a small percentage of Lake Lanier is considered inside Gwinnett County.
This was the first training for Gwinnett County Police since the death of Blue, a SWAT dog fatally shot Sept. 10 while tracking a suspect who fled from a stolen vehicle in Norcross.
Blue was the department’s first dedicated SWAT dog and had worked for the agency for more than a year.
“In Blue’s case, he did his job that day, and officers went home safe to their families,” Carlyle said.
Gwinnett County Cpl. Caleb Jefferson said the training for Warden, who has been on the job for six weeks for Duluth Police, will help him become acquainted with the stimuli of a police search.
“The boat, the water, the environment they’re in — they need to push through that and do their job, which is to go and find the suspect so we can arrest (them),” Carlyle said.
Warden's Training on Lake LanierWarden, a 20-month-old Belgian Malinois who has been working in law enforcement for six weeks, performs in a practice exercise taking down a suspect Wednesday, Sept. 30, on Lake Lanier.
It was Warden’s first time doing a search like this in the water, Jefferson said, as the dog’s handler, Phil Halladay took hold of the leash once they both reached the shore.
“It took a little bit of encouragement to get off the boat,” Jefferson said, as the dog jumped from the vessel and swam a few yards toward the island.
Almost every track Jefferson has been on recently involved some type of waterway, whether it’s a pond, a creek or a river.
“We just always want to have the knowledge that the dogs are going to perform well and perform safely for everybody, no matter if it’s the lake or a pond in somebody’s backyard,” he said.
The officer acting as the suspect had his arm wrapped in a material with Kevlar underneath it. The dogs are trained to grab hold at the suspect’s extremities — forearms, calves, biceps, triceps — to cause the least amount of damage possible, Jefferson said.
Once Warden has latched onto the “suspect,” it’s a tug of war that the dog is determined to win, Jefferson said.
“All training to the dog has to be fun,” Carlyle said. “The dog always wins in training, so we make it fun for the dog so the dog wants to go forth and do this type of training.”