by Lorie Lewis Ham
When the Reedley Police Department’s K9 officer Baxter passed away in January of 2013 due to a terminal illness, it spurred the beginnings of an even larger K9 unit in Reedley, thanks to the great response of the community.
According to Reedley PD K9 Sergeant Jesus Rivera, the Patrol Service Dog unit has been around in Reedley for several years. “As far as I can recollect, Chief Brown was the first Reedley Police Handler in the 1970s. Our current Chief, Chief Joe Garza, was also a handler from 1989 to 1997. The program was revamped in 2009 when the City purchased Baxter. He was a black Labrador Retriever and an amazing narcotics detection dog.”Reedley PD Police Liaison Officer Cyndee Trimble Friesen is the Coordinator for the current K9 unit and helped with the fundraising after they lost Baxter. “An amazing lady by the name of Cheryl Walsh, the founder of the organization Sean M. Walsh K9 Memorial Foundation, is how we got Miki (one of their current K9s),” shared Friesen. “The purpose of the foundation is to help police agencies fill the vacant position from the loss of an active K9 officer. The fundraising response from the community and organizations was amazing! With the funds raised, and Miki from the foundation, we became a K9 Unit of three! We currently have Leo, Miki, and Kona.”
Those involved in the program other than Officer Friesen and Sergeant Rivera, are Lt. Marc Ediger, and two other handlers-Officer Jason Gilles, and Officer Jonathan Montemayor. They all report to Chief Joe Garza.
Sergeant Rivera is the handler for Leo, a Belgian Malinois, purchased in 2013. Leo is his third K9. “Leo is a dual purpose patrol dog. Dual purpose is defined as narcotics detection and apprehension.”
Rivera first became involved in the world of Patrol Service Dogs in 2002. “I assisted several K9 teams from several counties in ‘Catching’ their dogs. The term Catching refers to wearing the bite suit and taking bites. At the end of 2013, I was certified in an agitator’s course. This course allowed me to read the dogs and push their abilities.”
Normally Patrol Service Dogs are selected from a vendor who has already trained the dogs with basic foundational commands, continued Rivera. “These commands consist of verbal and hand signals. Local police departments from all around the state use these reputable vendors. The vendors normally purchase the dogs from Europe.”
The canines and the handlers go through a Basic Handler School consisting of approximately 240 hours of hands on training. If the Patrol Service Dog is dual purpose, the narcotics training begins immediately after patrol certification. Additionally the dogs train every day for approximately an hour, and twice a month with a vendor for eight-hour sessions.
Handlers start their handling careers before they are assigned a Patrol Service Dog. They assist the current K9 teams with deploying narcotic odors, catching dogs in the bite suit, and learning the basic hand and verbal commands from the dogs. “The level of involvement from the handlers is immeasurable in time or dedication,” said Rivera. When the department has selected the new handlers then they are put through the Basic Handler School.
All of the current Patrol Service Dogs with Reedley PD have two specialties, according to Rivera. All three dogs are used for the detection of narcotics and the apprehension of suspects. The Patrol Service Dogs are also utilized for locating items a suspect may have discarded in an open field such as guns, knives, or any other types of evidence.
Rivera feels that the K9 team is a great asset to the Reedley PD as they are able to search buildings and other areas in a safe manner, with less risk to human life. They can also search a building much faster than a group of officers. “A canine is able to detect humans hiding in a room, allowing officers the advantage. Police Canines are able to apprehend fleeing suspects, who are actively resisting arrest; Patrol Service Dogs neutralize any human threat, keeping the officers safe from injury or death. Above all, Patrol Service Dogs announce their presence by barking. This normally deters suspects from starting an altercation with officers.”
For Rivera, the most enjoyable part of having a K9 partner has been taking Leo to community related events. “We have visited birthday parties, city events such as the pet parade, and school demonstrations. Leo’s favorite things to do are play fetch with kids, eat ice cream, and work at night. This position has always been rewarding for me. Leo and I find great pleasure in assisting patrol officers on calls for service and meeting members of the community. If any school or organization would like a demonstration, please contact CSO Friesen. The Reedley K9 unit would be happy to help educate the community regarding what K9s do and why we need the public assistance.”
Officer Jason Gilles is the handler for Miki. “I personally wanted to get involved with canines for my love of dogs and my love of police work. The satisfaction of working with an animal to complete a job, that would be difficult at best without the canine, is something that is hard to beat.”
This is Gilles first K9 partner and he loves it. “It’s like having your best friend with you at all times. Someone you know will have your back, is always happy to see you, always wants to work, and always brings a smile to your face. There is added stress knowing that you’re responsible for your partner 100% of the time, on and off-duty, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Canine has been and is one of the most rewarding positions I’ve held within Law Enforcement,” continued Gilles. “The bond between me and Miki is extremely strong as I can assume of every handler and their partner. He knows me and I know him.”
In addition to general patrol duties, Gilles’ partner, Miki, is also trained to detect narcotics. Miki is trained to find the odors of marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine.
Another of the K9 handlers is Officer Jonathan Montemayor. His K9 partner is Kona. “When I first started my career in law enforcement my first field training officer was a canine handler. After learning what a police canine can do, I knew I would want to hold that position when the opportunity to do so was available. I received Kona over a year ago when his prior handler was promoted to a detective. It’s a great feeling knowing I always have back up. Kona is always ready to work and doesn’t complain about the long graveyard shifts.”
All of those involved with the unit are thankful for the support of the community in raising the funds to add these wonderful K9 officers to the Reedley PD. “None of it would have been possible without all of you,” said Friesen. “The support and appreciation we have from the community is very much appreciated!”
The Reedley Police Department continues to accept donations for the K9 program, and also has available for purchase Reedley K9 t-shirts for $20 and small stuffed K9 dogs for $20. The stuffed dogs have the three K9 officers names on the front of the vest. Please contact the department Monday – Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for further information. The Reedley Police Department is located at 843 G St.