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DRPS K-9 unit names Handler of the Year

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter

The K-9 unit within a police department is unique; it’s the only unit where officers literally have to take their work home with them at the end of the day.

Working canines not only help with the apprehension of wanted suspects, but are experts in the detection of drugs, explosives and accelerants, and play a large role in search and rescue, among other general duties within the unit while on the job.

At the end of the day, they get to go home with their partner, or handler, while off-duty.

Each year, the K-9 unit recognizes one of their peers with “Handler of the Year” for going “above and beyond” for both the unit and Durham Regional Police Services (DRPS).

This year, D/Cst. Jeff Burns received the honour, and while not his first time with this title, he says he is honoured to be recognized and to be part of the K-9 unit.

Burns began his policing career in Toronto in 2001, before moving to Ajax/Pickering with DRPS, followed by a stint in nuclear security, before joining the DRPS K-9 unit in 2010.

“I love the diversity of the calls,” says Burns, noting rather than covering one particular area, he gets to travel across Durham and can go from one end of the region to the other in a single shift doing different things.

“It’s very hands on, it’s very skill based,” he says. “You just never know what you’re going to get.”

Burns was paired with his partner, PSD (Police Service Dog) Riot, a German Shepherd, about two years ago. Before Riot, Burns worked with PSD Reese, who passed away of a medical condition in 2014 at the age of four years.

“[Riot] is a nut,” says Burns, noting he was given his name in the kennel and while they usually change the names, Burns says Riot seemed like the right fit.

“I got the back story that he has two other brothers, both police dogs – one works for Niagara Parks and the other in Lewiston, New York – but of the three of them, he was the craziest,” explains Burns. “Someone said, ‘He’s going to be a riot to work with one day,’ and the name kind of stuck. So I kept the name and it holds true today.”

He says Riot, now seven, still acts like he’s one-and-a-half, has endless energy, and is extremely social.

“He’s extremely hard working,” says Burns. “When he’s in work mode, he’s in work mode and when he’s not he can chill out and relax.”

He notes Riot is really good in public and is “extremely social,” adding they go into schools with kids and participated in the annual K-9 calendar where Riot will get his picture taken with kids.

There are eight handlers within the DRPS K-9 unit, and while some are general purpose dogs, such as looking for evidence or apprehension, and others are trained in bombs or narcotics, Riot is cross-trained in the detection of human remains and cadaver work.

Burns says because of his training, Riot has worked on a number of homicides, including some outside of the region, and has been able to bring closure to some cases.

“Those are probably some of the most memorable in terms of work we’ve done,” says Burns, adding Riot has also helped find guns on tracks, he’s found people before they’ve been able to end their own life because of a crisis, and he’s apprehended about 35 criminals.

And, at the end of the day, Riot heads home with Burns.

“He is with me 48 hours a week. We’re in the truck together, and the rest of the time he’s at home,” he says. “He’s got his own dog run, his own kennel, he has an indoor and an outdoor space.”

Even when it’s time for work, Burns says it’s all about making it fun, even the training.

“The training and everything we do we make it all about fun,” says Burns. “It’s all about getting the ball, getting the rewards, it’s all about the praise. There’s nothing about the training that’s negative for them, so that’s all they want to do is work. Coming to work, that’s the fun stuff.”