Eight paws are raring to hit the streets of Clovis next month along with their two-legged police officer partners in what Clovis Police Chief Matt Basgall has called the K-9 Comeback.
Six years after the police department lost its K-9 officers to budget cuts, the department purchased four-legged friends Jax and Corda on March 30 to reinstate the program.
The police department is asking for the public’s help in raising an additional $75,000 to purchase three more K-9 patrol officers, bringing the total to five. The department has also employed Murphy, a narcotic dog, for about a year, said Clovis Police Detective Dayna de Jong.
The cost includes the hefty training pricetag for both the dog and its handler.
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Donations are being accepted through the Clovis Police Foundation, and plush stuffed K-9s are being sold for a $20 donation in the police department lobby. T-shirts will soon be available as well, de Jong said.
Two officers who have previous K-9 handling experience have paired up with the two new pooches for a six-week basic handlers course at Adlerhorst International, Inc., a police K-9 dog training facility in Riverside.
“For these being the first two dogs [purchased by the Clovis Police Department], they are two phenomenal dogs,” said Officer Brent Drum, Jax’s handler. “They’re both doing great in school.”
Officer Phil Garcia is the handler for Corda, a 3-year-old German Shepherd from Germany.
Drum’s partner, Jax, a 15-month-old Belgian Malinois from France, understands commands in French.
“This is my third language to learn with a dog,” said Drum, who handled two K-9s in his 10 years working for the Kingsburg Police Department. “My first dog was Czech and my second dog was Dutch.”
The first week of training consisted of mostly classroom work, with officers learning the history of K-9 officers in police forces and the benefits of employing dogs. The dogs were with the officers the whole time, Drum said.
“It’s like taking care of a 5-year-old,” he said. “You have to love on ‘em, play with ‘em, take ‘em out to the restroom, they go back to the hotel room with you. … They’re very excited [about training]; we’ve been a little stir-crazy cooped up in the classroom.”
The next week focused on Jax learning to follow Drum’s commands to heel, sit, lie down and more while surrounded by distractions like other dogs and people. Along with basic obedience, the partners practiced some police work, like apprehending suspects and releasing them on command, Drum said.
Real-life suspects are not used in training, of course, so the human officers must volunteer to act as agitators, running and hiding from the K-9s so the dogs can practice their future work.
“You wear a bite sleeve or a bite suit,” Drum said, “but me and my partner and everyone else is marked up. Their teeth don’t get through the sut, but they bruise you up pretty bad.”
Contrary to what some may think, K-9 officers are not violent, Drum said.
“They’re the exact opposite. They’re very sociable,” he said. “You’ve got to understand that everything we do with these dogs is play to them; it’s simply a game. … When they apprehend somebody, their tails are always wagging and they’re always happy.”
Jax will be going home with Drum and his wife and Drum’s 16-year-old retired police dog, Senji.
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he said. “You get to bring your puppy to work with you every day. It’s remarkable to let them work, they’re very loyal, very obedient.”
Drum had one goal for his career as a police officer: to retire as a K-9 handler. He’s been given that opportunity with Jax, his third — and last — K-9 companion.
“I’m pretty excited, I get to do what I love and I have a true passion for this,” Drum said. “I get to work one more dog into my career.”
Being a K-9 handler has been a longtime dream of Clovis Police officer Nicholas Mason. In fact, it’s the reason he considered a law enforcement career in the first place.
Mason was disappointed to learn that Clovis discontinued its K-9 program due to budget constraints in 2011, but told his interviewees when he was hired four years ago that he would work toward getting it back. He’s in line to be a K-9 handler as the K-9 program makes its comeback.
“It’s always been a passion of mine. I’ve always had a love for dogs,” Mason said. “I love that I can do this every day of my life and not feel like it’s work. … I’m excited to be chosen as one of the handlers.”
Mason’s future K-9 partner will move in with him, his wife and their two cats.
“My wife is all for it,” he said.
Mason will patrol the southwest area of Clovis with his partner and assist other officers when a K-9 is needed, he said.
“When a K-9 shows up on a call, they have a presence,” Mason said. “People respect the dogs.”
Having a K-9 officer program has many benefits for the police department and the public, officials said.
“They’re workforce multipliers,” de Jong said. “Dogs can do things that officers cannot. They can track suspects, locate illegal drugs, apprehend suspects.”
Drum expanded on that, noting, “Their noses are 1,500 times stronger than a human nose and their eyesight and hearing is 15 times better than a human. … It helps with officer safety. A dog can alert and find suspects faster than a police officer can, and since we’re serving the community, it makes the community safer.”
Introducing the dogs at community events also breaks the ice between police officers and residents, de Jong said.
“Everybody loves dogs,” she said. “It’s one of those tools that brings us closer to the community because they form that common bond.”
How to help
Mail donations to 1233 5th St., Clovis, CA 93612. Checks must be written out to Clovis Police Foundation, with K9 in the memo.
Purchase a plush stuffed K-9 for $20 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Clovis Police Department lobby, 1233 5th St.
Donate online at www.clovispolicefoundation.com/donate