Expert: Closely Evaluate K-9 Team
WILKES-BARRE — An expert trainer believes a Wilkes-Barre police K-9 team should be “closely evaluated” given that the police dog has bitten officers twice within the last nine months.
“When I was talking with the (former police) chief in the past, she told me there was a bite (involving an officer). And now there’s a second bite? There’s a problem,” said Asa Anderson, owner of Anderson K9 Training in Bucks County.
Mayor Tony George ordered K-9s Chase and Skoty taken out of service a couple weeks after, he said, Chase “mauled” the leg of a police officer in December. That incident followed bites of two suspects that summer.
The Belgian Malinois and their handlers, officers Joe Homza and Kevin Novackowski, respectively, had been trained by Paul Price at Northeast K9 Academy in Wilkes-Barre Twp. But Price bowed out after an apparent disagreement on the location of some semi-monthly maintenance training sessions.
An arbitrator ordered in January that Skoty be reassigned to officer Dan Roper, and city officials took several months finding someone to provide a written evaluation on the dogs and a trainer willing to take on the training and recertification tasks. After being cleared for certification and recertification, the dogs and their handlers began training with Price in June. Chase returned to service in mid-July while Skoty and Roper continue working with Price. Anderson, citing scheduling issues, was one of the trainers who declined to retrain the dogs. A New Jersey state trooper for 30 years before retiring as a lieutenant in 2012, Anderson worked in the state police K-9 unit for 17 years as a handler and as head trainer for patrol service dogs and scent detection dogs, and he also was charged with investigating bites.
“Based on my experience, there’s a good possibility it could be handler error,” Anderson said of what potentially led Chase to bite officer Shane Smith on Tuesday.
A witness said Smith was standing in an alley as Homza led Chase past him in search of a suspect when the dog latched on to Smith’s leg.
“It needs to be closely evaluated to understand why this is going on,” Anderson said. “When things like that start happening, two, three times, you have to look at that team thoroughly and evaluate the team.”
Anderson emphasized that he wasn’t placing blame on Homza or Smith, but added that there’s always a reason for a bite, whether justified or unjustified. He added that a handler must always be in control of the K-9.
Anderson said proper academy training of a police K-9 team followed up with regular in-service training is paramount. He noted that the New Jersey Office of Attorney General has mandated training criteria for police K-9s, but Pennsylvania does not.
Anderson said any police K-9 involved in a bite should be suspended from service immediately and the K-9 and handler should be re-evaluated. That was standard practice with New Jersey state police when a K-9 bit a bystander or a suspect, he said.
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