What is your role at the Pico Rivera Sheriff's Department and how does the K9 Team assist you?
I’ve been on the Department for 29 years and I have been a canine handler since 2010. The K9 Unit assist patrols in the car, while I am assigned to operate in the Safe Streets Bureau, the Department’s Gang Unit. We assist other agencies including Baldwin Park, LAPD, Long Beach, Torrance PD, and others because they know we have K9 Units.
What breed of dogs do you recruit as K9s?
One of my dogs is named, Riley and she is a Belgian Shepard from Holland. She is my gun detection dog. I got her at 18 months old and I have had her for a year. The other dog is named Roxy and I got her at 18 months and we bonded right away. She is a Belgian Malinois and she is seven years old. She does narcotics detection, which consists of opium, cocaine, cocaine based, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine.
What type of training do the dogs undergo to prepare for service as K9s?
It’s five weeks of training and we put them on odor detection and once the odor is imprinted, they never forget it. After that, it’s constant training, time and time again. The Department issues actual guns that we fire and use for training and sometimes I will use the car wash bay or the mechanics bay to hide firearms as practice exercises. Sometimes the dogs have distractions. In their case, they use balls as a distraction. As a handler, you need time and patience to get them off of the distraction.
It’s important to note that these dogs only do detection work, therefore they are not bite dogs so they do not do apprehension work.
What is one of your favorite parts about working with K9s?
When the dogs see me dressed up in my uniform and hear the truck start, because they get very excited knowing we are going to work. I always try to be very animated with the dogs because if I act like a “Deputy” and give out orders, the dogs shut down.
In what ways has the K9 Unit helped the Sheriff’s Department detect and prevent crime?
Year-to-date, Riley has located eight guns. Riley is vital, in that she can expedite a search and show the Deputies where to search in a house or an open area.
A significant find for her was a buried firearm because we have never trained her on buried firearms, but she can smell it. It was enough for her to show interest and we dug a little and there was a buried gun.
Her alert is putting her nose where the item is and not moving, which is called a focused alert. If the gun has been fired recently, that means the odor is strong, it’s permeating. The guns I use haven’t been fired in 40 days. The less odor on the gun, the tougher it is for her to locate it. I want to get her down to a minimal amount of odor, same for the narcotics dog.We start with pounds and kilos for training and reduce it to just a pound or a gram. So we start off with large amounts of odors and gradually reduce to a minimal amount.
Does Roxy have any significant or important finds in her career?
We were invited down to the US-Mexican Border at the San Isidro Crossing. She alerted on a van and in the gas tank was 60 lbs. of marijuana. This was in a gas tank full of gas, wrapped in plastic and she alerted on the marijuana. That was very impressive. She alerted the odor with the distraction of cars and people.
We have been deployed for a couple of hundred searches year to date, including vehicles, homes, and open area searches.
She also alerts on money. Currently, we are up to over a million dollars on detection. Roxy has to problem-solve during the searches. I must give her room to work to find narcotics. Training should be positive and fun for the dog. If they were to be harmed it would be considered animal cruelty and that’s a felony, therefore they are assigned a shield.
What types of guidelines are used to evaluate the dogs for approval of use in the field?
We do a yearly certification. For court purposes we train with each dog four hours per week. The court requires us to maintain certification. If we weren’t doing our training with these dogs, it would imminently show at the yearly certification, therefore we train daily. It's fun for the dogs and the drive is what they live for.
What will Riley and Roxy do at the end of their K9 career?
When I retire, I can keep them, but Riley has a few more years left in her. It’s important to maintain their overall health, which consists of a good diet, no table scraps, and lots of water and love.