WINGATE – Some pretty intense law enforcement training goes on in rural Union County and the graduates end up patrolling the streets all over the United States.
Almost all of these law enforcement trainees were born outside the United States in places like Germany, Holland, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic. Come graduation day, most of these new law enforcement personnel haven’t even hit their second birthday. But they become effective crime fighters because they are man’s best friend — the four-legged K-9 type.
Matt Godwin has been around working dogs almost his entire life and the U.S. Army veteran now runs DNA K-9 in Wingate. Godwin’s motto is K-9 Training For The Real World. He started DNA K-9 in 2014.
Godwin offers a wide range of services, including working with the military, but training police dogs is a special emphasis. Godwin has worked with the Waxhaw Police Department, the Mint Hill Police Department and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in the past, as well as with other departments from across the country.
After an agency makes a commitment for a new K-9, Godwin then goes overseas to select the dogs. Those trips to find the right dogs may take up to 10 days.
“All these dogs have to be medically cleared,” Godwin said. “Everything has to be solid – their hips, their joints, their teeth. We are not looking for machine guns without a safety. They operate in a team environment in the public. These are not savage, untrustworthy dogs. But they have the ability to handle a violent situation.”
The onsite training process in Wingate is intense and lasts either six or eight weeks.
During that time in Wingate, the police handler and the dog will spend the entire training time together. Godwin specializes in dual purpose K-9 training.
“Dual purpose includes the detection service but also the apprehension of criminal suspects,” Godwin said.
Godwin will have anywhere from five to 15 handlers at any one time and they live in a barracks with the dogs.
The training begins with the dog and handler bonding and then progresses to more law enforcement type training. That training regime includes kenneling, feeding, grooming, emergency trauma care, pre-mission preparation to combat heat and cold related injuries, patrol techniques and deployment, target odor detection, tracking-trailing of hard and soft surfaces, article search, vehicle search scenarios, area search, building search and handler protection.
Back in December, Godwin ran a graduation ceremony at the Waxhaw Police Department as two new K-9 police dogs — Elvis and Edo — joined the force. Elvis has been assigned to police officer Billy Mills while Edo has been assigned to police officer Matt Watkins. All four completed the intensive six-week training course at DNA K-9 before hitting the streets of Waxhaw. Both officers were with their new patrol partners during the entire six-week, seven-day training course.
It is the first time since 2005 that Waxhaw has had a K-9 unit. It cost around $27,000 to purchase and train Waxhaw’s new K-9 units but no taxpayer money was used. The funding came from grants, forfeiture money, a GoFundMe page and a golf tournament.
Both of Waxhaw’s new K-9 dogs are Belgian Malinois, which were originally bred to be herding dogs. The U.S. Secret Service is one of the many agencies that use the Belgian Malinois.
Waxhaw’s last K-9 dog died in the line of duty 12 years ago after suffering heat exhaustion while tracking a rape suspect.
Godwin said conditioning is a big part of training
Once the training is complete, the K-9s will live with their handlers and the average length of service for a police dog is around nine years.
“The majority of them, the dog goes home with the handler after their shift,” Godwin said.