By Colleen Sparks
Phoenix Police Officer Chris Villa’s new partner in crime is a furry part of the family, but do not let his cute appearance fool you because the K9 is trained to assist authorities in some of the most dangerous situations.
K9 Mattis, a two-year-old Belgian Malinois, recently joined the force thanks to financial help from the Phoenix Police Foundation. The poised, alert animal from the Czech Republic is one of four dogs that were added to the Phoenix Police K9 Unit last year. That brings the total dogs to 17 in the unit.
“His main purpose is a locating tool,” Villa said. “Some dogs are trained to scratch at a door, barking at a door to let you know something’s here. Every dog has its own quirk. He’s still got puppy in him, very energetic. He’s doing a very good job.”
Mattis has been assigned to one of the police department’s SWAT teams. Recently when an armed suspect would not leave a house, Mattis was sent in and reached the suspect before officers did. The K9s also are trained to apprehend suspects, grabbing onto whatever they can to secure them. The dogs also can detect odors that people can’t pick up, allowing them to smell bodies, drugs and bombs. Mattis and the 16 other K9s train and work in North Central and all over Phoenix and live with the officers who work with them.
“The K9s play such an important role in the department that it’s something people can support,” said Timothy Thomas, president of the Phoenix Police Foundation. “I absolutely think they’re helpful. They (officers) spend more time with these dogs than they do their family.”
It cost the Phoenix Police Department $12,500 to acquire Mattis. Dogs can be returned if they are not a good fit. The department has other Belgian Malinois dogs, as well as German Shepherds. Officers like these breeds because they are athletic, agile and calm, though every dog has its own personality and some do not make the cut. Villa said his previous K9, Kylo, who is almost 8 years old, “was a great dog” but was “not getting the job done” so he retired.
The Phoenix Police Foundation has raised more than $1.65 million since 2017 to help the police department with youth programming, life-saving equipment, camera gear, community engagement and many other needs. It has paid for several K9s, along with training for the dogs and their handlers and a new fence and shade structure at the K9 training center at Phoenix Regional Police Academy. The foundation also assisted in a supportive role with a new kennel project.
Thomas has never worked as a police officer but his father was a city employee and he was impressed with the “caliber of officers” in the Phoenix Police Department so he wanted to help through the foundation.
“They are really talented people,” he said. “A lot of times this is a thankless job (for police).”
Phoenix Police Sgt. Rich Maiocco, a K9 sergeant, said the dogs support patrol and detectives, as well as respond to tactical scenes. They move quickly and are trained in apprehension.
“Our dogs are extremely busy,” Maiocco said. “The dogs are running calls constantly. They’re just so fast.”
The K9s are vetted and must have the proper temperament, including the ability to stay calm in stressful situations, he said.