K9 officers spend most of their day inside the cage of their handler’s car. They’re not pets, instead they’re highly skilled canine officers who are trained to hunt and attack, if necessary. The animals are kept inside for their protection and yours, but being left in cars has its risks.
In just the past three months, close to a dozen K-9 officers have died across the country after being accidentally left in a hot car or after the air conditioning stopped working.
After the string of deaths, the NBC 6 Investigators discovered some local departments are doing more than others to have safeguards in place to protect the animals.
In August, a Sheriff’s Deputy near Corpus Christi Texas was fired after accidentally leaving his K9 partner inside the back of his car. Police said he didn’t notice it until 20 hours later.
Back in June, an Alabama police dog named Mason died after getting left in the backseat of a hot car.
And in South Florida, two Hialeah canines died in May after getting left in the back of Officer Nelson Enrique’s SUV. Police reports show Enriquez parked his SUV in his driveway after working an overnight shift and went to bed. By the time he noticed the dogs were inside the car, it was too late.
The Hialeah Police Department is conducting an internal affairs investigation. The Department and the Officer aren’t commenting until the investigation is complete.
The Hialeah Police Department has safety systems installed inside all of its K9 SUVs to prevent the animals from getting overheated inside. But the technology does not work once the ignition is turned off.
Reports show an alarm did not sound on Officer Enrique’s vehicle when the dogs were trapped in dangerous temperatures, instead the police vehicle was silent. Hialeah Police said they’re now looking into ways to improve their police cars so that it doesn’t happen again.
Two of the area’s largest police agencies are also looking into update their equipment after the tragedy. Miami Dade Police and the Broward Sheriff’s Office also have alert systems that don’t work once the car is shut off. A spokesperson for Miami-Dade Police said they recently purchased the equipment and are waiting to have it installed. A spokesperson for the Broward Sheriff’s Office said they’re also looking into updating their current equipment.
In Miami Beach, the K9 cars are equipped with alarms and fans that turn on if thermometers reach 90 degrees, even if the car is off.
“It’s your partner in crime, you got to watch your partner’s back,” said Miami Beach Police Sgt. Brudzinski. “Especially in South Florida in the summer months, the interior of the car can heat up really quickly.”
The Davie Police Department is the first agency in South Florida to use the newest technology. The agency installed the extra safety features this summer.
“Once I turn the ignition off, it will start beeping and it start saying no K-9 left behind,” said Davie Police Department’s Paul Vardakis.
A constant beeping sound will alert the officer when he turns off the ignition of the vehicle until the officer opens up the back door of his car and lets the dog out. Plus, if the air conditioner shuts down, an alarm sounds on the car while the handler also receives a warning text message and phone call.
“So it allows you not to make the mistake of leaving him if you are tired, or whatever the case may be,” said Officer Vardakis.
The officers are partners with their canines. They don’t only work together, they live together. The added investment to them is added peace of mind.
“With the scope of our jobs we are constantly moving around and helping other officers out, going inside businesses and to know that he’s safe, it just makes my job a little bit easier,” said Vardakis.
The added technology costs about $500 per vehicle. Police departments in Plantation, Sunrise and Sunny Isles are testing out the extra equipment as well.