Kennewick police introduce Axel, their newest K-9 member

The newest member of the Kennewick Police Department can be fierce if he needs to be, but he showed his softer side Monday as he was being introduced.

Axel, the newest K-9 on the force, laid down on the floor in the air conditioned station -- a little relief after being in the sun on a SWAT call earlier -- and happily got petted.

Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg had Axel put in a special appearance Monday so a Finley couple, Opal and Ken Kuh, could meet the 2-year-old German shepherd that the department was able to buy thanks to their donations.

"It's a huge benefit, not only to our department, but certainly to the Tri-Cities community as a whole," Hohenberg told them, explaining Kennewick's K-9 units help out other agencies when tracking is needed.

The Kuhs donated $10,000 to the Kennewick Police Foundation to be used for a new police dog. Kennewick's K-9 program has been funded through community donations since it started in 1987, Hohenberg said.

"Your donation will be working for all of us every day," he said.

Axel works with Officer Brad Kohn, who has been a K-9 handler since 1997.

Axel is Kohn's third dog. Vigo, who worked with Kohn for six years, had to be put down unexpectedly because of medical issues.

Hohenberg said the Kuhs' donation made it possible for the department to quickly find a new dog and start the training process.

Axel went through three months of work to get him patrol-certified, Kohn said. Axel also received training to be put on the Tri-City Regional SWAT team and responded to two SWAT call-outs Monday.

Axel and Inu, Kennewick's other K-9, are tracking dogs. They're trained to search buildings, neighborhoods and other areas to find suspects and evidence.

Axel already has helped make a couple arrests in his short time on the force, Kohn said.

Last year, Kennewick's K-9 units responded to 200 calls, had 38 tracking incidents, aided in 25 arrests and searched 66 buildings.

There are five police dogs in the Tri-Cities -- Pasco officers have two, and the Benton County Sheriff's Office has one -- that are available to help other agencies when needed.

Cmdr. Craig Littrell, a former K-9 handler, said the biggest benefit of the police dogs is to help in the unknown situations.

"When you go to a building and don't know if someone's inside or don't know if they have a weapon, you can send the K-9 in to clear the building," Littrell said.

And if there is someone inside, the suspect often quickly gives up once officers announce they are there and the dog starts barking.

"They don't want to get bit," Littrell said.

Even though the police dogs are trained to apprehend bad guys, they are also friendly and are often taken to schools to meet kids.

"We want them to be social ..." Kohn said. "But they can also turn it on when it's time to go to work."

The police dogs work with their handlers every day and live with their handlers, becoming another member of the family.

Kohn and Axel still have to learn each other's quirks, but Kohn said Axel is already proving to be an excellent police dog.

"Vigo, I could push and push and he never got tired," Kohn said. "This one is more my speed. He gets tired when I get tired."

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com