NEW CUMBERLAND - In three weeks, Hancock County will play host to a statewide convention that will bring both dollars and dogs to the area.
The West Virginia Police Canine Association (WVPCA) is holding its 20th annual statewide training seminar at Tomlinson Run State Park and sites in New Manchester and Newell, bringing an estimated 80 police K-9 units - dogs and their handlers - here from April 14 to 18.
Most seminar participants will stay at the Holiday Inn Express in Newell, keeping their dogs in their rooms or in portable kennels, said Hancock County sheriff's Deputy 1st Class Scott Little, supervisor of the Hancock County K-9 Unit.
Hancock County sheriff’s Deputy 1st Class Scott Little puts his K-9, Christina, through her paces during a training session in New Cumberland in November. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
Little, who has been paired with his K-9, Christina, for seven years, said the convention will represent several "firsts" for the WVPCA and Hancock County.
"I've tried to take eight years of seminars that I've attended and put the best of those into this one right here," he said.
Little said convention firsts will include:
* A law enforcement vendor room at the Holiday Inn;
* A K-9 first aid class at the Wells Building in Newell;
* Daily lunches at the New Manchester Volunteer Fire Department;
* Evening transportation provided by Diehl Automotive of Robinson Township, Pa.; and
* Demonstrations for the general public from 6-8 p.m. April 16 (Wednesday) at Tomlinson Run State Park.
Lunches will be provided free of charge by Connie's Corner, of Chester, DiCarlo's, of Weirton, and the New Manchester VFD. Little said the convention would not be possible without the donations and services of Hancock County businesses and organizations.
"The contributions have been unbelievable. We've had a lot of help. It's been an eye-opener for me," he said.
Sheriff Ralph Fletcher and other county officials believe the seminar is an opportunity for Hancock County to put its best foot forward - and receive something in return from people from all over the state, many of who have never been to the Northern Panhandle.
"It's great to have a chance to showcase our area," said Hancock County Commissioner Dan Greathouse, who also is director of the Top of West Virginia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Commissioners recently donated $5,000 to the CVB for promotion of the event. Greathouse recused himself from the vote because of his involvement with the bureau.
Little said the donation will help pay for the seminar-closing banquet on April 17 (Thursday) at the Chester VFW Post 6450. The banquet is being catered by DeeJay's of Weirton.
Despite hopes for a boost to Hancock County's tourism industry, the law enforcement officers attending the convention will be here mostly to work. The seminar is the main opportunity for many of the K-9 units to be certified or recertified, Little said.
The major certification days will be April 14 and 15 (Monday and Tuesday), with training sessions scheduled for narcotics, explosives, patrol and tracking work. Five WVPCA master trainers will be on hand, as will two trainers from Battle Born K9, a police dog training school based in Las Vegas, Nev.
K-9 units are expected from as far away as Charleston, Huntington and Martinsburg, W.Va., while nearby units from East Liverpool, Weirton, New Cumberland and St. Clair Township also are taking advantage of the training, Little said.
Participating dogs will include bloodhounds from the West Virginia Division of Forestry, as well as narcotics, bomb-sniffing and patrol dogs from city police departments and county sheriff's departments across the state, he said.
Little said K-9 units are becoming a more common feature of law enforcement, despite the fact that they are expensive to establish and maintain. Hancock County's K-9 units, in addition to Little and Christina, are: Lt. Chuck Stanley and Jesy; Deputy Eric Cline and Odin; and Deputy Pat Hoder and Freddie.
All four sheriff's department K-9s are German shepherds, Little said. Copa, the K-9 paired with New Cumberland police Lt. Jeremy Krzys, is a Dutch shepherd.
"They are on the rise because they are such a valuable (law enforcement) tool," Little said. "What a dog can do for your department through its senses is fantastic. It can do what humans can't."
Although most of the seminar will be held at Tomlinson Run State Park, indoor training will be held at the former Jefferson Elementary School and the former C. Hackett Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership, both in Newell, he said.
The public demonstration on April 16 will include narcotics, apprehension and vehicle extraction scenarios, Little said. Visitors are asked not to bring their dogs and are encouraged to park at the mini-golf course. Shuttle service to the demonstration site near the swimming pool will be provided.