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Paws before boots: See through your K-9’s eyes

This lightweight camera system lets you see and hear what your K-9 does – in real time – for greater situational awareness and to capture high-definition evidence

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The K9-XR camera system from Tactical Electronics combines a high-definition camera, thermal imaging and two-way radio to give handlers audio and sound of what the K-9 sees.

Tactical Electronics

Sponsored by Tactical Electronics

By Dustin Dodd for Police1 BrandFocus

The K-9 is never wrong, so you’d better be right.

There are few things in this world that can punch you in the mouth as hard as 0330 hours. Your eyelids become heavier than any plate in the gym. Your eyes burn like a furnace, each second on the clock like a bellows fanning the flames of fatigue. Right when you give in and decide to “work on reports” in the parking lot of the station, emergency radio traffic shatters the silence.

An officer is in foot pursuit of a suspicious person, or something. You heave the lead plates off your eyes and the adrenaline dump surges through your veins as you throw your car in gear. Tires break traction and the black-and-white screams through empty streets. Glancing into your review mirror, your partner’s eyes peer into your soul.

You arrive on-scene just in time for air support to clear. They assure you that the field is clear and the suspicious person is long gone. The radio garbles something about fuel and the blinking lights on the metallic bird fade in the distance.

But your partner is relentlessly barking and taking every inch of leash you give him.

“Apport!” (Search!)

You hold the perimeter and begin your search. Walking your partner perpendicularly through the tall grass across the wind, he rips a ninety degree turn to the left. In the scent cone, his paws reach ever wider and his claws shred the ground beneath your feet. You waterski on earth behind the furry outboard motor, plowing a parallel pair of trenches with the heels of your boots toward a group of thick bushes. The suspect suddenly leaps out, screaming his surrender.

“Los!” (Out!)

Your partner voices his approval, ensuring compliance while you take the suspect into custody without incident.

“The dog is never wrong.” My trainer’s words ring truer today than the first time I heard his mantra years ago. Working remotely is the essence, the very lifeblood of safely and successfully working a police K-9. Deploying “paws before boots” is often the safest, most effective method to conduct a search.

Frustratingly, forces are beginning to align across the nation to potentially make K-9 handlers abandon off leash or long-lead searches. A loss of those capabilities, which are vital to safely apprehending violently resisting suspects, would limit handlers from fully utilizing the dog’s remarkable ability to hear and smell. Officers would blindly march into harm’s way, with only their partner to rely on, facing similar situations as this one that I faced.

Walk a mile in your K-9’s paws

Enter Tactical Electronics, who released a camera system last fall that allows the handler to remotely walk a mile in the dog’s paws, safely taking full advantage of the dog’s amazing senses.

The K9-XR lightweight camera system is a high-powered extended range camera that mounts directly onto your partner’s harness via MOLLE or Velcro attachments. The tested, highly durable camera streams live video and audio to a hand-held monitor allowing the handler to see through their partner’s eyes and hear the sounds in the environment while the dog is on search in real-time. While the robust 450-meter range that the monitor will reliably receive the 256-bit encrypted signal will likely exceed the distance a handler would deploy their dog, it allows for maximum versatility in search options.

More than common compact cameras, the K9-XR combines a high-definition color camera with high-intensity visible and infrared LEDs to provide clear images even in the low-light conditions most handlers operate in.

See what your dog smells

Tactical Electronics also integrated a FLIR thermal camera to display hidden heat signatures as white-hot objects… literally seeing what the dog smells. The handler can switch between camera perspectives at will and the live footage that is streamed to the handler is simultaneously stored by the internal DVR onto a MicroSD card. The footage can be used for evidence or to provide immediate feedback, improving training for both the K-9 and officer.

The K9-XR’s built in, two-way radio may be the most utilized feature uniquely positioned to provide the handler extended control of his partner while simultaneously giving the handler direct communication capabilities to give commands to a suspect. Via the “Push to Talk” button, the officer can now speak directly to the suspect remotely. Hearing a K-9 “tell” the suspect to put his hands up might be the mechanism that allows violently resisting suspects to be taken into custody without incident, while capturing high-definition evidence for both the jury and command staff.

The camera is affixed to a spring-loaded arm for flexibility in the field or training as the K-9 maneuvers past obstacles and through tight spaces. The foldaway neck and removable antennas make the K9-XR compact and easy to transport. Powered by four CR123 batteries, this tool looks to safely extend the capabilities of the K-9 team at a time when it is needed most.

Visit Tactical Electronics for more information.

Read next: Spotlight: Tactical Electronics’ products allow LEOs to see what they’re going to encounter to avoid putting themselves in harm’s way

About the author

Dustin Dodd is an active-duty detective supervisor for a municipal police department in the California Bay Area. He was sworn in 2001 and his assignments have included: K9 handler, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, SWAT Explosive Breacher, drivers training instructor, traffic accident reconstruction, computer and cellular phone forensic examiner.