BROOKLYN — For 4 1/2 hours Wednesday evening, K-9 officers from throughout St. Clair County, St. Louis city and County converged on Lovejoy School and the huge park area adjacent to the school to train with their dogs.
They were there for training with their best friend -- the police officer assigned to work with them. The evening session extended into the night hour so the dogs could get some training in working at night.
Brooklyn Police Chief Tony Tomlinson said the training takes place bi-weekly in various venues. "Today we are hosting it," he said.
The dogs, like police officers, have to have so much training every year and the training sessions help accomplish the task, Tomlinson said. He said the training is approved by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.
Tomlinson said he hopes citizens understand that "we are becoming one department."
"That's the only way we are going to win this crime thing. We must work together. Brooklyn is part of a big team," he said.
The dogs barked and yelped as they went about their work, attacking the man who was posted as the suspect, obeying the various commands given to them, searching for the drugs and other parts of their training.
Tomlinson said drugs had been placed inside of three vehicles on the outside and they would be used to train dogs on doing hits to notify the officers that drugs were in them.
"We do drug hides, article searches, throw guns out so the dogs can do scent searches and then try to locate the suspect," Tomlinson said. He said Lovejoy was going to be searched as part of the training because the dogs are used to search schools for drugs, bombs, guns and more.
Belleville K-9 officer/trainer Brian Dowdy excitedly led the training session.
"We have 28 K-9 units here for training. The training is very important because when there are situations where their skills are required, they have to be ready.
"The training maintains the dog's work ability. Their training is like any training that is given to us. Also, we gain camaraderie with other officers from the different agencies," said Dowdy, a 13-year veteran of the Belleville Police Department.
Dowdy's sons, Brian Dowdy Jr., 10, and Chris Dowdy, 5, came along with their dad. "My dad spends a lot of time with his dog," Brian said. "I love dogs, too."
"I like it when they jump on people's arms," he said, smiling. His brother, Chris, said he likes the dog he has at home, named Art.. Art is a retired Belleville K-9 who was injured while on duty.
The officers came from Belleville, Sparta, Fairview Heights, the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department, Centreville, St. Louis city and county, Dupo and more.
B'Dar is Brooklyn's 90-pound wonder and he was out showing off his skills and honing them, too. St. Clair County Deputy Calvin Savage had his 85-pound German shepherd, named Casa. Ramont Manuel brought his black German shepherd, named Uzanthia, from Kinloch, Mo., to participate in the training.
"The dogs are very valuable in police work," Dowdy said. "They can smell things that we can't. In crowd control situations, people are more willing to comply when the dogs are there. Their presence seems to deter crime. They can track a suspect and recover evidence."
The dogs are called out daily, he said. Belleville has five dogs. The dogs cost anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000, Dowdy said.
Dowdy said he asks the teams what their dogs need the most work on and that training is provided to that dog and his trainer.
As Dowdy talked, dogs ran after and bit on the sleeves of the person who was put out as the suspect. Various commands were barked out to the dogs to tell them to attack and back off.
A crowd gathered to watch the dogs work. Among them was Brooklyn Mayor Vera Banks. She said it was her first time watching the dogs go through the paces. She said she was looking forward to seeing "how the dogs chase people and do other things to help the police."
"I am happy that they are hosting the training in Brooklyn today," she said.
Dowdy said the dogs are given free care, including medicine from the Belleville Animal Clinic. "Whatever they need, Belleville Animal Clinic provides. We can't say thank you enough to them," Dowdy said.
Cheryl Yarber, clinical administrator, said Dowdy approached officials at the clinic and asked them to work with the K-9 community.
"We stepped up. We are very proud to care for these dogs. We do it as a community service. We are on call for any of them 24 hours a day seven days a week. The dogs are important. They protect everybody," she said.
Her 9-year-old grandson, Owen Yarber, agreed.
"I feel safe because of the dogs," he said. "They do a great job of protecting the community. And, I like to see police dogs work."