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.