K-9 Team Tracks Down a Suspect As published in Tigard Life November 2018
When Tigard Police Officer Rivera communicates over the radio, his canine partner Rico, a German Shepherd from Slovakia, rises on all fours in the police SUV, ready for action. Out of the car, Rico indicates his drive to work and earn his reward—a jute tug toy—by jumping around and barking before Rivera can put on his lead. One afternoon in September, his reward was realized after a two-hour search for a suspect successfully concluded that spanned a half-mile radius affecting several Tigard neighborhoods.
Rivera became apprised of the incident when Officer Will radioed in that he witnessed a domestic violence incident near SW Hall and Sattler. The suspect, who slapped and pushed his girlfriend in the face and chest, fled as Will’s patrol car approached the scene. Given the severity of the incident, their availability and the fact that the suspect was jumping over fences and running through yards, the K9 team was deployed. The first step was determining the last known location of the suspect so that Rico could pick up the offender’s scent.
“Dogs are a great tool for finding people because of their ability to differentiate scents. Whereas officers can only search with our eyes. If someone turns a corner on a building, enters an outhouse or something like that, we’re not going to know where he’s at,” says Rivera. After two hours of running, the suspect was located beneath a trash bin. Since the gate to this yard was locked and the offender had chosen an effective hiding place, the area might have otherwise been overlooked by an officer. When Rico began pawing and jumping up on the gate, it was clear that they needed to search the area.
Because the suspect’s attempts to flee outpaced the team’s progress searching for him, officers needed to establish a perimeter to contain the offender’s activities and broadcast their presence with lights and sirens. The goal was to encourage him to hunker down in the area and stop running, allowing time for Rico to locate him. Officers also announced their presence while engaged in the search, revealing that they had a dog, to encourage the suspect to surrender and alert neighbors. In this case patrol officers established a square perimeter with officers and vehicles encasing the target area. Officer Rivera and Rico were immediately accompanied by Sergeant Odam who relayed updates and provided necessary back up. As the suspect reached the perimeter’s edge, the group moved the border accordingly.
Neighbors were naturally on edge given the suspect’s dogged motivation to evade capture, which included trespassing in yards and briefly entering a home. In one of the yards, Rivera encountered a homeowner pointing a handgun from the interior sliding glass door toward the yard in his direction. Fortunately, it was during daylight hours and he was able to assure the property owner that he was an officer. “During daylight, you can see what’s going on and can announce your presence to homeowners. Working night shift, I worry about a homeowner being armed and thinking I’m an intruder. That’s why you’re always making announcements. At three in the morning, we’re ringing doorbells to tell people and ask if there are animals out there.” That is also why Rico is always on a 15-foot lead to avoid surprising or being surprised by a neighbor, animal or being placed in a situation where he might get hurt or react defensively to a perceived threat.
Community involvement was a key factor in helping close in on the suspect. Besides calling 9-1-1 to report updates on the suspect’s whereabouts, neighbors pointed out of their windows where they last saw the suspect. “Because I usually work at night, it was great to be around people who were so supportive. We can’t be everywhere and needed their help with the updates. If you’re calling in and willing to help us, that’s awesome.”
The successful resolution of the incident was made possible by teamwork between Tigard patrol officers, a King City officer and neighbors. However, the police may not have been able to narrow down the search without Rico’s involvement. After two hours of hard work, Rico had finally earned his reward and got to play with his favorite toy.
When Tigard Police Officers are called out to investigate a security alarm activation, they don’t know whether it’s a false alarm or a burglar in the building. Entering the premises with this level of uncertainty can be dangerous. If the suspect has already fled, it may be difficult to locate the person. This is one scenario where K-9s, Rico and Diesel are invaluable. Both dogs’ workloads range from tracking suspects or missing persons to participation in community events.
These German Shepherds are taught to sniff out suspects and find their trail if they’ve left the scene. On the alarm call mentioned, either dog may be commanded to enter the building and indicate by laying down and barking that a human is present. They have been trained to keep the suspect in their sights unless their officer/partner calls them back; which may be necessary if they know the offender is dangerous. If the suspect were to physically assault an officer, a K-9 is trained to intervene. Often the dog’s bark is enough for a suspect to back down and comply.
K-9s have a keen sense of smell and can pick up human scent as long as they are taken to a place where the suspect or missing person has recently been located. While working, K-9s are focused, athletic animals who will jump over fences and do what it takes to remain with a scent.
Diesel and handler Officer Powers have been working together for over two years. To date, the pair has recorded over 50 captures and assists. The team has also located numerous missing or endangered persons. Rico and his handler Officer Rivera are Tigard’s newest K-9 team. The pair recently completed their initial certification that entailed 400 training hours, spanning 10 weeks. The curriculum includes everything from grooming, area searches, and locating suspects to discriminating between the odors being tracked from other competing smells. The training program is based on positive reinforcement. When the K-9s complete a task, the officers reinforce their accomplishment with enthusiasm and play. Rico is motivated by his favorite toy, a jute rope that Officer Rivera uses to play tug of war. Also fond of his favorite toy, Diesel’s reward may an impromptu game of fetch with his handler, Officer Powers.
Bringing a K-9 officer to a school or to a community event can break the ice. It is much easier to start conversations with kids and community members in effort to find common ground when a dog is nearby. Officers are happy to show-off their partners. However, when Rico and Diesel are dressed in their uniforms and three collars – they are ready to work. Both are focused and on-edge readying for their next task. It is appreciated when community members ask if they can approach a K-9 officer. If the uniform is off, they are off-duty and ready to lick anyone who comes to greet them.
Having a K-9 program allows helps police locate suspects and missing persons as it can also protect officers. They also help the police forge strong connections to the community.