Changes are planned within the Walton County Sheriff’s Office K9 Unit to make dogs proficient in both drug detection and patrol work.

In order to get the unit where he wants it to be, Walton Sheriff Mike Adkinson has decreed that three of the dogs presently in the employ of the Sheriff’s Office be trained to standards set by the U.S. Police Canine Association.

The USPCA standards are favored by both the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Sheriff’s Office’s insurance carrier, the Florida Sheriff’s Risk Management fund, Adkinson said.

“We’re looking at a new philosophy and we made the decision to change the type of certification we’re getting,” Adkinson said. “We’re going to meet the FDLE standards.”

In stepping up to the new certification standard the Sheriff’s Office made the decision to no longer utilize the training services of the Kassenburg Canine Training Center in New Market, Alabama.

Walton County has traditionally purchased its dogs from the Kassenburg Canine Training Center, and in a recently concluded internal review of the K9 Program, Capt. Bruce Maddox, chief of the Sheriff’s Office’s Uniform Patrol Bureau, found fault with buying dogs from the same place they were being trained.

“This is a poor business and quality assurance practice and will not be duplicated in the future,” Maddox said in the report, noting his decision was based on his opinion and those of “outside assessors.”

The FDLE does not specify standards for drug dogs, which is an area where the Walton County K9 Unit shines. In March, four different Sheriff’s Office dogs won awards at the USPCA Region 1 K9 Trials. Kayne, a dog trained by Deputy Kristin Pond, was named the top overall narcotics dog. Others receiving awards were canines Faro, Duko and Drago.

It is in the patrol dog arena that Adkinson and Maddox want to gain proficiency, and that is the area in which FDLE certifies canine units across the state. Maddox noted in his report aspects of the “obedience control” FDLE requires are off-leash heeling, distance control, social exposure and gunfire exposure.

“In these areas of the review, it was determined our K9 teams were deficient in several of the areas reviewed and did not successfully pass this portion of the evaluation,” Maddox reported.

Adkinson said the noted review deficiencies were anticipated in an area where most of the dogs being trained are unfamiliar.

Patrol functions for the K9 Unit have been suspended while changes are made in the division, Maddox said in his report. Faro and another dog are being retired due to age or for health reasons, the report said. A newer dog, Rockie, along with Duko and Drago, are being trained for the dual drug detection and patrol dog duties.

“New dogs will be obtained to replace those being retired,” Maddox said in his report.

Human personnel changes have also resulted from the internal review of the K9 Unit. Sgt. Nick Bearden has been replaced by Lt. Robert Gray, and a sergeant’s position within the unit is yet to be filled, according to Lindsey Batchelor. Gray will report to Maddox.

“That change was made within the last week,” Batchelor said in an email.