Men and Women in uniform aren’t the only ones who put their lives on the line on as police officers. With their heightened senses, speed and agility, K9s can search for weapons, drugs or suspects faster than their human partners.
Sig, a five-year-old German Shepherd looks like a dog. He plays like a dog. And after swimming with his family in the pool, he’ll sure smell like a dog. But Sig lives a double life.
Sig is a working dog; one of nine in the Sacramento Police Department K9 unit.
“He never calls in sick, he loves coming to work. He gets very excited to come into work every day, he doesn’t complain,” said Sgt. Steve Oliveira, Sig’s handler and supervisor of the K9 unit.
Their day starts off like any other worker’s, with a stop at the office. And just like any other office, co-workers bring in treats… dog treats. There are staff meetings, which the dogs like to consider nap time. But things pick up when Sgt. Oliveira and Sig hit the streets.
“Our typical calls are crimes in progress type of calls, like violent crimes, burglaries,” said Sgt. Oliveira, “Sometimes just by making our announcements and our warnings that our K9’s going to be used, the smart ones tend to give up and they’ll come out.”
And if the bad guys try to run, the officers call on their dogs to run them down. Sig and the rest of his four-legged co-workers hone their skills in weekly training sessions. They work on obedience, agility and apprehension with the help of “agitators” who act as bad guys and wear padded sleeves.
Police K9s are considered “force multipliers.” Their speed, agility and heightened senses allow them to do the work of a team of officers in half the time.
“They think they can hide from the dog,” Sgt. Oliveira, referring to suspects, “If they’re there and they’re locked down, the K9 will find them.”
But do the officers ever worry for their K9 partners? Sgt. Oliveira says yes, “We do. We never want to send our dogs into a situation where they’re gonna get hurt. But we also realize we have job to do and our job is to protect officers and the community. But if it comes down to a point where we’re going to send officers into a place to search a building or a yard for a dangerous suspect, we’d rather the dog go. At the same time, if we know there’s an armed suspect inside and he’s got a gun and threatening to shoot it out with us, we’re not going to send our dog into a situation like that.”
Police K9s are not only good at capturing criminals, Sgt. Oliveira says they’ve proved to be life-savers.
“We’ve had two police dogs shot recently, in the past couple years and had it not been for those police dogs, I guarantee you it would have been an officer that was shot,” said Sgt. Oliveira.
But as fierce as they look, police K9s have a soft side as well.
“When it’s time to work they know,” said Sgt. Oliveira, “It’s like having a light switch. It’s like they realize, ‘Ok, it’s time to go to work.’ But they also know when they’re just there to be a dog.”
Since they’re often brought to public demonstrations, the dogs have to be social. The dogs and their handlers are together 24-7, and it’s clear, they have a special bond.
“We just know what each other’s thinking. And he can tell, sometimes, just by looking at me what my mood is and we really get to know each other and how each other works,” said Sgt. Oliveira.
At the end of the day, there’s one call Sgt. Oliveira and Sig always respond to; the call to come home.
“They’re just an invaluable resource for us,” said Sgt. Oliveira, “It allows our officers to come home every day safe to our families.”
K9s retire around ten-years-old. The Sacramento Police Department then allows their handlers to buy them for a dollar.
Sgt. Oliveira says you can come up and pet K9s if the officers aren’t actively working a crime scene, but you should always ask the handler first.