Know the K9s: RCPD’s Police Service Dog Vito

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Three officers at the Rapid City Police Department have twice as many legs as the rest, and they all work hard to help their handlers pull drugs and violent offenders off the streets.

K9 Vito in patrol carK9 Vito is four years old, a Belgian Malinois from Croatia and Germany. He’s led by Senior Officer Garrett Mastin.

“Vito has been with the department for two-and-a-half years. I’ve been in the department for six years,” he says.

Working as a K9 handler requires extra time, training, and efforts, both at work and at home, as Officer Mastin explains.

“Just like any process of getting hired for a specialty, you have to go through a hiring, performance review, an oral board, just like you’re applying for a new job within the job you already have.”

The duo completed months of additional training before hopping into the patrol car together, and continues to train weekly.

All of the K9 handlers are also cross-deputized.

Officer Mastin says that this gives them “the ability and authority to go into Pennington County and assist our joint agencies, which is really helpful because we do actually get a fair amount of calls in the county, helping the Sheriff’s Department, and what other criminal activities are afoot, we can assist them.”

Each dog is different and has strengths and weaknesses, just like people do.

“Vito is really good at drug detection. It’s one of his favorite things to do. He’s also pretty good at working apprehensions and tracking,” Officer Mastin says.

K9 Vito sitsOnce he’s out of the patrol car and at home, Officer Mastin says Vito is a totally different dog – but just as good of a companion.

“He’s got an on/off switch. So he just becomes a puppy at home. He plays with the other dogs, he wants to snuggle from time to time, which even shocks me every once in a while because he is just a normal dog, but when he comes to work, he’s all business.”

The duo also jumps into action during Special Response Team callouts.

“I’m an entry operator for the Pennington County Special Response Team,”Officer Mastin explains. “Essentially we have individuals that go inside the buildings or do the hands on approach in close quarters, searching buildings and rescue elements.”

K9 Vito jumpsHe says that Vito adds some strong senses to the scene in a situation where a few sniffs could make all the difference.

“Having a K9 on the SWAT team is extremely helpful because we’re able to be able to search larger areas, especially if it’s an outdoor area, search buildings, which we use them as a locating tool or apprehension tool, which increases officer safety, public safety…their ability to smell is tremendous, and using their senses to our advantage gives us a little bit of a tactical advantage, whereas if we just had to go in and do it on our own, human senses just can’t compare to what a K9 can do.”

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