K-9 Kaptures: Sniffing Out the Burglars

I had been a patrol officer for about two years at Carlsbad, Calif., PD when I was selected for the K-9 program. I was partnered with a donated German Shepherd dog and we trained together for several months before hitting the streets as a team. When I got him, his name was Shawn but that didn’t seem like a good name for a police dog so I renamed him Schultz after the big sergeant on the T.V. show Hogan’s Heroes. (Young guys, you’ll have to Google it!). The name seemed to fit because Schultz was big—a shade over 100 lbs.—and a little bit clumsy at times. We worked together until I got promoted about three years later. Schultz was assigned to another officer but I got to see him frequently. Here’s one of my favorite memories of our time together.
My phone woke me up around 0400. The dispatcher on the other end told me that I (actually, my K-9) was needed for a burglary in progress in the south part of town. This was our first call out, having completed K-9 training only a month before.
We were on the road 10 minutes after the call. Schultz was rocking the patrol car as he quickly paced back and forth on the plywood platform mounted behind my seat. Schultz always knew when we were going to something good. My interaction with the radio and the way I drove resulted in a Pavlovian response—he knew it was time to go to work and he loved it. Truth be known, I was pretty jazzed also.
Upon arrival, I got the brief from the Senior Officer Steve Forman. A silent alarm had been received from a business and Forman had discovered a large hole in an exterior wall of an adjacent business. The hole was big enough for a man to go through. We’d been experiencing a series of these burglaries where a hole was knocked in the side of a business without an alarm and then an adjacent business was burglarized by going through a common wall. They were doing this to circumvent the perimeter alarm on the actual objective. In this case, though, the burglar didn’t know about a motion detector at the intended target and that’s what resulted in the police response.
As I was being briefed, a responsible party showed up with a key for the main entrance to the strip mall. Although I could have sent Schultz through the hole, I refrained because I didn’t know how far away the bad guy would be and the types of potential hazards that could injure my partner. I wanted to be able to maintain control and voice contact and if he went through that darkened hole, I would have to go through also—something I really didn’t want to do. I was glad we were going to go through a “normal” opening.
Once inside, I saw that all of the business entry doors appeared to be closed. I sent Schultz on his search mission with the command, “Find him!” Schultz took off at a run and quickly pulled up short at one of the business doors. He put his nose to the opening at the base of the door and I could hear him breathe in deeply. It was as if he was savoring every scent particle. Then he grabbed hold of an adjacent door frame and bit down, splintering the wood.
I should probably explain that this wasn’t a trained behavior. Schultz was supposed to bark and visibly demonstrate where the bad guy was hiding. However, we were still working on that and Schultz’s “default” alert was to clamp onto the nearest object. It had been a source of contention during our training, but there was no doubt what Schultz was telling me so I was content to work through it.
As soon as I saw his mouth on the door frame, I knew we had a bad guy. I praised my dog, brought him back to a heel position away from the door and then yelled, “Police with a K-9. If you don’t surrender, I’ll send in the dog.” Schultz put an exclamation mark on the order with several loud barks. The response was immediate, “Ok, ok, we give up! Just don’t let that dog in here!” Apparently, the splintering door frame had been pretty convincing.
I was a little surprised that the response had indicated there was more than one bad guy in the business (“we give up”). My cover officer and I maintained positions of cover and gave very specific commands so that we could observe the burglars as they were ordered into the open and then down onto the floor. They were extremely compliant, perhaps because Schultz was part of our team and making it clear that he was waiting for the command to engage.
The suspects were quickly handcuffed and searched. They were both huge—easily in the 290–300 lbs. range—and I marveled at how they had made it through the darkened hole. I was also thinking how glad I was that my K-9 partner had done such a great job of turning these two burglars into sniveling wimps. Of course, to Schultz, it had just been a game of hide and seek—and he had won.
This was our first big catch and one that I often reflect on as one of the best times in my law enforcement career.
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