You Can’t Beat the Dog

FWPD Sgt. Allen Norris and K-9 Max

| photography by Alex Lepe |

One of the most productive and dedicated units in the Fort Worth Police Department is the K-9 unit. In 2015, the unit handled 3,703 calls for assistance, conducted 201 building searches, 41 area searches, 242 narcotics searches, and made 175 arrests. During that year, the canines led the way in the seizures of 54.4 ounces of marijuana, 8.5 grams of heroin, 624 grams of cocaine, 45,846 grams of methamphetamines, 27.5 grams of hashish, 8 grams of K2, and 15 grams of assorted pills.

The unit also seized 11 firearms and $110,263 in U.S. currency.

You can’t beat the dog. You would be foolhardy to try.

“Fort Worth Police Department canines are taught to ‘locate and apprehend’ not ‘bark and guard.’ They will bite you if we tell them to,” says unit supervisor Sgt. Allen Norris, a 30-year veteran who has worked in the K-9 division since 1999. His dog is a 70-pound, seven-year-old Belgian Malinois named Max. “If one of our dogs bites you, then you deserved it,” he said.

Norris says he had always wanted to work in law enforcement, but he never thought about dogs until his introduction to patrol canines while serving in the U.S. Army. After his service had ended, Norris joined the FWPD. One of his goals was to work in the K-9 division. “As an officer, I waited for years with no openings, because when people come to K-9, they don’t leave. Luckily, by the time I promoted up to sergeant, an officer was retiring,” he said.

This is not a 9-to-5 job. Police dogs are with their handlers 24 hours a day.

The K-9 unit began as part of the Burglary Prevention Unit in May 1962 with three handler/canine teams. It disbanded for a short time in 1976, but today has 11 dogs and handlers.

Norris says K-9 Max has different personalities for job and home. “Max is very laid back until he is put to work,” Norris said. “His first handler was a female, so he is very calm and relaxed for a Malinois. Once he goes to work, his drive starts kicking in, and he gets more excited and more amped up.”

Born in Holland, Max trained in-house in Fort Worth. He trained in bite work, area searches, article searches, and narcotics. Untrained, the dogs cost about $8,000.

The FWPD canines train from 12 to 16 weeks, with individual training for at least 20 minutes every day. Besides basic obedience, canines are trained in tracking, building, and outdoor searches, narcotics detection, apprehension, and handler protection. Most of the training is for obedience work and narcotics work. The dogs and their handlers train as a unit four hours a week on Wednesday.

At home, Max is a pet. “He loves my girls,” Norris said. “My girls can get him to mind almost as well as I can. He is the easiest dog I’ve worked with.”

Norris recently celebrated 28 years of marriage to his wife, Chris. Norris is a dad to three daughters: Brandiee, 37, Kasey, 24, and Cheyenne, 23. 

Predictably, Norris says the most enjoyable part of his job is working with the dogs. “Even after all these years of watching the dogs, especially doing bite work in training, watching them work and figuring things out never gets old,” he said.

Norris explains why the department trains the canines to bite rather than guard. “Most of what we do involves building searches,” he said. “We’re searching buildings for people who have broken in and are burglarizing the building. Our dogs are taught to find the subject and bite to hold them. They hold that subject until we get control of them. ‘Bark and guard’ does not work. We have tried it, but the dog learns that if the suspect moves, then he is free to bite. Most people can’t hold still with a dog surrounding them, jumping up on them, or barking at them. Plus, not allowing the dog to just go in and do his job puts the dog and us in more danger. As long as I’ve been doing this, even wearing a bite suit, I flinch if a big dog is in my face,” Norris said.

Norris’ previous canine partner, Moro, a 105-pound German shepherd, is almost 10 years old now. He is retired and living the family life. Norris and Max will join him in retirement in January.