Conway police utilize K-9 units

Story and photos
by Callie Sterling

The Conway Police Department’s K-9 Unit is comprised of three officers with three police dogs.

Chip, Chase and Tracker are three canines that work daily to make Conway a better place. Chip, a single purpose police dog, is the only school resource dog in the district. Chip is partnered with Conway School Resource Officer Sean Julian. Unlike Chip, Tracker and Chase are dual-purpose police dogs. Tracker is paired with Officer Richard Shumate, and Chase is partnered with Officer Matt Edgmon.

“For several years we have partnered with the Little Rock Canine Academy for our training courses for our dogs in the Conway Police Department K9 Unit,” Edgmon said.  “Several of our dogs come from Mexico or Europe because there are not many breeders in the United States that breed working dogs. LR Canine Academy has helped us get into contact with reputable breeders, and they then train them for us.”

Chase is a Dutch Shepherd from Mexico that is approximately 1 year and 8 months old. Chip is a rescued Black Labrador that the officers estimate to be about 5 years old.  Chip’s exact age is unknown because the police department acquired him from a rescue organization. Tracker is an 18-month-old Belgian Malinois that was obtained from a breeder in Mexico.

Each officer spoke fondly of his canine counterpart, and all agreed that they enjoy being a member of the K9 unit.

“I really enjoy having Tracker as backup. I know I can depend on him,” Shumate said. “My favorite part of working with him is the companionship that he provides.”

Dual purpose police dogs, like Chase and Tracker, are trained in multiple facets including narcotic detection, criminal apprehension, building searches, tracking and more.

“They (Chase and Tracker) find narcotics. They help us with building searches. They can track someone who is fleeing from a pursuit,” Edgmon said. “They are trained in handler protection in case someone tries to attack us. They can perform open area searches, such as searches in the woods. They truly have a wide variety of skills.”

Edgmon expressed that the police dogs often prevent situations from turning violent or escalating to dangerous.  

“The dogs lessen the likelihood of a lethal outcome because we, as officers, have more of a reaction time as opposed to having to make a quick decision,” Edgmon said. “The dogs often allow us to put some space in between us and the person of interest. We can often send the dogs to chase someone, and we would much rather use our dogs rather than a weapon. We can’t retract bullets, but we can call our dogs back. They are the only tool we are able to use in that way. Ninety-five percent of the time, if we release the dogs, the person we are having an altercation with will give up.”

The officers want the public to know that the dogs are not mean or aggressive. They do not want citizens to be apprehensive or nervous if they see a police dog in public.

“They are perfectly friendly, yet simply trained to do a task,” Edgmon said. “They are happy dogs, and they love coming to work.”

The dogs are not trained to continuously cause harm, but rather are trained to bite once and help retain the indivudal that they are pursuing. “They don’t continuously keep biting someone when we release them; they are trained to bite and hang on,” Edgmon said.

Edgmon and Shumate were partnered with other police dogs before Chase and Tracker joined the force. Edgmon was previously partnered with Chewie, and Shumate was partnered with Dax. Both of these police dogs were retired and now reside with the officers in their homes. Today, the retired police dogs have adjusted to life as a pet.

“The police dogs are eventually retired typically after six to eight years of work; but I have seen some work as long as 14 years,” Edgmon said. “Police dogs that are trained in apprehension are often doing physically taxing work, which they love to do, but it can wear on them after several years. The motivation of the dog can change when they get older as well. It depends on the individual dog when it comes to how long they work.”

The officers describe the dogs as having individual and unique personalities.  

“Chase is much different when it comes to his personality in comparison to Chewie,” Edgmon said. “Chewie is really social, and although Chase is friendly, he is typically entirely focused on me and me only; this is not necessarily good or bad. Chase is just different than Chewie; they each have their own individual personality.”

Shumate describes Tracker as obedient and compliant with a playful side.

“Tracker is serious and confident, yet still playful,” Shumate said. “He is really great about turning on the serious side to his personality when he is in work mode. When he is not working, he can be really playful.”
As a school police dog, Chip has a slightly different role than Tracker and Chase. The Conway School District decided to invest in the betterment of students in the district and directly paid for Chip’s training.
“I am employed by the Conway Police Department, but Chip was paid for by the Conway School District. The Conway PD pays to upkeep him. He is fully dedicated to schools and is the only school police dog in the district, so we make trips to all sorts of schools. We also are happy to bring Chip to neighboring schools in other districts if they don’t have access to a school dedicated police dog.”
Chip is stationed at Ruth Doyle Middle School but travels to schools all over the district. His purpose is to prevent crime and rehabilitate children.
“He is mainly a deterrent in the schools,” Julian said. “He conducts locker searches, bus searches and interacts with the students. He is trained to perform searches for narcotics and firearms. Tracker and Chase are not trained to look for firearms because it is not necessarily illegal to have a firearm in your car in town, but it is different when it comes to schools. I have enjoyed being a part of integrating police dogs into the Conway schools, and I hope the program continues to grow.”
The officers agreed that the canines help them find commonalities with the public.
“People are often apprehensive and not likely to come up to us as an officer and start a conversation, but when they see the dogs, they are more prone to come up and talk with us,” Edgmon said. “I am often out getting gas and people see that my vehicle says ‘K9 Unit’ on it, and they want to come see the dog. We really enjoy that because it gives us some common ground with our interactions with the citizens.”