K-9 Canine Unit

Winston-Salem Police Department K-9 UnitAbout the Unit

The Canine Unit is comprised of 13 K-9 teams. Ten of the canines are trained in patrol work and narcotics. The ten patrol teams provide investigative assistance to Patrol Officers and the Detective Division. Two K-9 teams are single purpose dogs utilized in the Special Investigations Unit for narcotics detection. One K-9 team is a single purpose dog utilized in the SRO (School Resource Officer) program for narcotics detection.

The canine teams assist in the everyday operations of the Department. The canines are high-quality, well-trained members of our department. The K-9 handlers are highly motivated and dedicated Police Officers.

The canine is regarded as a specialized locating tool. The canine team is utilized to conduct evidence searches, narcotics and article searches, tracking of suspects and missing persons, building searches, and apprehension of suspects.

Public Demonstrations

The K-9 Unit also conducts public education demonstrations to promote and educate the community about the canines and crime prevention. To schedule a demonstration, call 336-986-9762.

How Police K-9s Work

Video Transcript

Koda is a new Winston-Salem police K-9.  He's excellent at doing vehicle sniffs for drug articles, excellent at tracking, missing persons, says Officer Andrew Bielsten.

Officer Andrew Bielsten (Biel-stin) is his handler. But admits the 18-month-old German Shepherd pushes him. Constantly training with him, it doesn't allow an officer to become complacent and it really makes you a better officer.

And understanding his partner's unique language is an ongoing process. He changes his intensity a lot, how he pulls, where he pulls, a lot of times if his nose is down or he'll maybe walk past something and he'll stop in his tracks and turn his head real quick, explains Bielsten. The ears will usually go up, his eyes will open, the tail will…for a suspect the tail is a little bit different but usually if he locates something his tail will start wagging.

Two others joining Koda on the police force are 20-month-old Diezel, also a German Shepherd, and Baron, a 16-month-old Belgian Malinois Shepherd mix. They were all purchased from a Pennsylvania kennel. They can do things we can't do, says Sergeant Charles Neil Berrier. Sgt. Berrier heads up the Special Operations Canine Unit in the Winston-Salem Police Department. He says successful police dogs have a good hunt drive, eagerly retrieve items, instinctively sniff the grounds, are high energy and don't excessively bite. They can track. If a suspect runs from committing a crime, the dogs can track him down. They also can track missing persons, juveniles and lost people. So we're not only tracking criminals we're tracking to help people, says Sgt. Berrier. Drug work, they can find drugs hidden in places where we wouldn't think to look.

This commander credits the dogs' very keen sense of smell for establishing probable cause in many cases…enabling investigators to search in areas where they normally wouldn't have access. Basically you stop a car where we suspect there to be a drug dealer in there. We have indicators and we want to try to gain access to that car. We use a canine, if the canine alerts that gives us access to that vehicle. Which we would not have any other way without using the canine. We can do partial snips, according to Sgt. Berrier.

People ship drugs in through UPS, FEDEX…we can pull package, run the dogs through there. We wouldn't be able to look and draw a search warrant if it wasn't for the dogs, Sgt. Berrier continues. So basically their biggest asset is to help establish probable cause to give us extra evidence in actually charging the crime and prosecuting later in court. According to Sgt. Berrier, last year police dogs helped officers seize an estimated 2-million dollars' worth of drugs.

These dogs undergo 400 hours of intensive training including obedience, searching for missing people, looking for suspects, drug searches or finding any articles that have a human scent. They're also trained to protect their handler.

It's just nice to know there's someone watching your back all of the time, says Officer Bielsten.

The North American Police Working Dog Association tests and certifies the city's police dogs. Once in the field, they work 5-to to 7 years and then are retired. Recently, three ended their service with W-S's K-9 Unit-creating vacancies Sgt. Berrier says he had to fill. It also created an opportunity for some area businesses.

We found out they needed a dog, so we got them a dog, says Wake Wagner. Wagner owns and operates Wagner Appliance on Waughtown Street. He's also a member of the Waughtown Business Association-the group that foot the entire $7,500 bill for Koda.

We had some extra funds that had accumulated and we decided maybe we should give back to the police department that helped us so much and helped this area of Waughtown, explains Wagner.

Also, that will allow the supervisor and myself to expand our budget, agrees Sgt. Berrier. They purchased a canine. We can take the money we would have used to purchase a canine, (and) we can purchase extra equipment, pay for vet bills, attend advance training. So it really does help us tremendously when donations like that occur.

Meanwhile, K-9 Officer Bielsten says Koda is challenging him in ways he hadn't anticipated. He forces me to keep an open mind, to be willing to try new things, be willing to train and the companionship, always being with him. Winston-Salem's K-9 Unit has 14 dogs. They provide 24/7 coverage across the city with street patrols, narcotic vice and one rotates through 20 W-S public schools with the police School Resource Officers.