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When a position opened to become part of the Canine Unit, Richard Birmingham jumped at the opportunity.

“Sometimes it may take years for a spot to open up and when it does, you still have to go through a pre-evaluation and an interview process,” Birmingham said. “Out of 18 applicants, less than half were chosen. It’s very competitive.”

The Michigan State Police will graduate six canine teams in Lansing at the MSP training academy Friday.

The program lasts 14 weeks and each team is trained on tracking, building searches, area searches, narcotics and body detection.

All training is done in-house. Every handler and canine team stays on-campus during the process, but handlers go home on weekends.

Birmingham will be stationed in the Metro Detroit area with Ike.

“Most people don’t know that the canine learns right along with us,” Birmingham said. “We both start from square one because it gives us both the opportunity to bond while learning and going through the process.”

The Canine Unit was established in 1960 and has 45 police dogs placed throughout the state.

MSP uses German shepherds because of their problem-solving skills and the ability to handle high-stress situations.

Handlers must be on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

After graduating from the program, yearly evaluations are conducted to ensure each team still meets all qualifications.

While Birmingham admits a lot training goes into becoming a handler, he says it’s all worth it.

“I have the opportunity to help find the missing or lost and make sure violent subjects are off of the street,” Birmingham said. “It’s very rewarding to be a part of this unit.”

ksmith3@detroitnews.com

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Graduating teams

The teams of troopers and their dogs that are graduating Friday from the Michigan State Police Training Academy in Lansing and where they’ll be based.

■Richard Birmingham, Ike, Metro Post

■John Robe, Chad, Metro Post

■Thomas Salcido, Kade, Metro Post

■Jack Taeff, Rico, Monroe Post

■Mack Schlicht, Wick, Eighth District Headquarters

■Christopher Carns, Bo, Seventh District Headquarters

Source: Michigan State Police

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