On Friday, Aug. 14, the Palm Beach County School District Police Department brought its five canines to Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington for a demonstration to help them prepare for the first day of school.
The department’s five four-legged officers, and their three human partners, garnered attention as they showed off their special skills, impeccable behavior and warm personalities.
Kash, one of the two K-9s partnered with Officer Curtis Riddick, was named through a contest at Crosspointe Elementary School in Boynton Beach. His name stands for Kids Are Safe Here, and with Kash (search and rescue) and his other friends, Jake (narcotics), Kobee (narcotics), Tango (narcotics) and Maggie (gun detection), kids truly are safer.
These five K-9s are a relatively new unit. The school police department did not have K-9s after the last unit’s dogs retired. The new chief, Lawrence J. Leon, saw the benefits to the program and brought it back, Riddick said.
The first dog in the unit, Kash, is a 2-year-old bloodhound who will turn 3 on Dec. 14. Kash was donated by the Jimmy Ryce Center. In 1995, 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce was kidnapped and murdered. The center works to bring media attention to child abductions, increase awareness of predators, counsel and support children and their families, and more.
“Mr. Ryce has made it his lifelong mission to provide bloodhounds to any police department that is willing to deploy the dog… if [they] need a bloodhound to search for a missing child or a missing person,” Riddick said.
Kash, who joined Riddick when he was only seven weeks old, went through six months of training at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office’s Bloodhound Training Academy.
“Kash, no credit to me, won top dog. He knows what he’s doing,” Riddick said. “He knows what he has to do.”
Not only did he win top dog, but Kash is the first and only bloodhound in the United States deployed in a school district setting, Riddick said. “In a school district this size, we’re way ahead of the curve,” he said.
While Kash has had a few missions, Riddick credits the teachers and administrators with keeping track of their students and minimizing the need for Kash’s special abilities.
There are many different scenarios where Kash comes in. Sometimes, kids will leave campus, hide out or wander off.
“There are all kinds of scenarios,” he said. “What we do on a daily basis is train, train, train, train. I don’t want to have to use him, but he has to be ready… 24 hours a day, he’s with me.”
Kash was constantly sniffing at the air, alert and paying attention. Riddick gave Kash a sweaty shirt to smell, as another officer hid, and within seconds, Kash found the hidden officer. A young dog, Kash weighs only 120 lbs. He’s expected to get much bigger — his father is 160 lbs.
“Kash is a scent-specific dog,” Riddick said. “Every time I bring him out of the car, it’s the same ritual.”
Riddick presents Kash with what they call a “scent article” — something even as simple as a pencil, a desk, a shoe, a sock… almost anything that has been touched by the person they’re looking for — and off Kash goes, following even the most minuscule scent trace. “He’s trained to go footstep to footstep,” Riddick said.
Contrary to popular belief, rain actually makes the odor more intense, rather than masking odors, Riddick noted.
Riddick’s other partner, Kobee, is a year-and-a-half-old Belgian Malinois.
Like Kobee, Officer Jose Cuellar’s K-9 Jake is a narcotics dog. Jake, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, has been working for about eight months.
“He’s a friendly dog. He’s really good at what he does,” Cuellar said. “First and foremost, he’s a deterrent. Kids don’t know when we’re coming.”
As a narcotics detection dog, Jake is trained to detect illegal substances, including marijuana, cocaine and heroin.
Cuellar tends to work on the north end of the county. Officer Christopher Ferland usually works in the southern end of the county.
One of the last to join the unit, Cuellar is the only officer with only one K-9… for now. Plans, and fundraising, are in the works to acquire a gun dog for him.
Ferland works with K-9s Tango, a yellow lab, and Maggie, a Dutch shepherd. Maggie makes sure there aren’t weapons in cars, book bags, lockers and more. Whereas an administrator would have to physically check everything, Maggie can go in and check everything within minutes, Ferland explained.
The dogs act as a deterrent, as well as a way for the students to learn and become comfortable with the officers. During the school year, the officers bring the K-9s to schools for demonstrations, attend events and make their presence known, even when they are not at the school searching for drugs, guns or missing children.
“The kids know we’re here… it breaks barriers,” Riddick said, adding that kids are always asking to see his dogs. “If it was up to me, every police officer would have a dog,” he said.
To learn more about the Palm Beach County School District Police Department, visit www.palmbeachschools.org/schoolpolice.
ABOVE: School Police Officer Curtis Riddick with K-9 Kash.