Taking the Lead in Safety
Police Department’s duty — and outreach — can get a little hairy
Sergeant Scott Foster’s work partner, Vader, doesn’t say much, but he’s an attention-grabber anytime he steps out into the community. And, depending on the circumstance, you’re going to either be enchanted with Vader or in fear of him.
Foster is a K-9 handler for the Hillsborough Police Department, and his partner is one of two dogs on the force’s K-9 unit. Whether they’re searching for illegal drugs, a missing person or on the trail of a suspect in the dark, the team can be exposed to high-intensity situations.
“I think it’s probably the most dangerous job in the Police Department,” said Foster, who has been with the town for 23 years. “I’ve learned a lot from these experiences, and I have a greater awareness of the importance of safety precautions. I’m able to pass that on to our new canine handler. I take a lot of pride in that. Safety is one of the most important parts of my job.”
That commitment is one he has carried over into his role as sergeant over the department’s community services, which Foster took on about a year ago. You may be surprised how often his four-legged partner assists with safety awareness throughout the community.
“We will put on classes for different people in the town who don’t necessarily work in law enforcement but who might have to make home visits,” Foster said. “For instance, we’ve held classes for postal carriers to teach them how to recognize aggression in dogs during their mail deliveries. We also dispel some of the myths, like if a dog is wagging his tail, it means he's friendly. No, it just means he is stimulated. He will still bite you.”
The training is helpful for postal carriers, especially for the summer months and when school is out as dog owners will change their habits with their dogs in the warmer weather. The department will provide similar training for social workers who make home visits.
This type of community engagement highlights the rigorous training Foster and Vader have completed. It also shows the bond the sergeant has with his canine partner.
“We take a lot of pride in our dogs being not necessarily social but neutral, meaning they're not going to bite you if you come up and pet them,” Foster said. “By the same token, they're not going to seek it out. They're going to be totally aloof, which in my mind, is the perfect behavior for a police canine.”
As a K9 handler and the Police Department’s community outreach leader, Foster must be able to trust the canine’s training for a variety of situations. Vader’s ability to react to body language and voice tone is paramount to his response to pursuing a suspect, searching for someone who is missing or meeting kids in a neighborhood.
“They see how we're interacting with people,” Foster said. “Contextually they know when they see and hear us talking friendly with people, nothing bad ever happens versus us yelling commands at somebody.”
In addition to the community outreach and classes involving the K9 unit, the Hillsborough Police Department works with the Orange Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth to address underage drinking and drug use; partners with Passmore Center and Orange Congregations in Mission to deliver meals to seniors; and works with Safe Kids Orange County. Foster even leads Crafts with a Cop, a quarterly class for seniors at the Passmore Center.
“It’s not all about stickers and lollipops,” Foster said. “There’s so much time and energy we put in to touching so many different groups and services. We’re involved with so much more.”
Engage Hillsborough: Safety
The Hillsborough Police Department will be among the areas of town services and operations featured in a special event April 29 to listen to community members about safety concerns and to provide information on a range of safety-related topics. Thoughts, suggestions and concerns expressed at this community engagement meeting will be gathered to guide future town decisions.
Engage Hillsborough: Safety will be 2:30 to 5 p.m. at the Whitted Human Services Center, 300 W. Tryon St. Doors will open at 2:30 p.m. for informal conversation and interactive activities at staffed tables. The main program will take place from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Town and Orange Rural Fire Department employees also will be available to chat or answer additional questions after the main program.
A free, supervised children’s art activity will be offered for children ages 4 to 12 in the same building. Children will have the opportunity to display their safety-related art project at the end of the program. A firetruck will be available for visits before and after the main program, and Orange Rural firefighters plan to bring some equipment with them as well.
Spanish interpretation services will be available, and meeting handouts will be in Spanish and English.
Engage Hillsborough is intended to provide an opportunity for more and different voices to engage with the town. A large attendance at this meeting will help ensure that future engagement meetings of this type are planned. If you cannot attend, please check with your neighbors to be sure your neighborhood will be represented. If you can attend, please bring neighbors and other Hillsborough friends with you!
Got a question about the Police Department’s Community Action Team? Contact Foster by email or by phone at 919-296-9563. Got a question about Engage Hillsborough? Contact Senior Communications Specialist Cheryl Sadgrove by email or by phone at 919-296-9433.