In 1978, some Chula Vista police officers approached Chief Bill Winters with the idea of having police dogs. I’m a fan of Winters, even though it took him 16 years to promote me. Among his many plusses, Bill was open to consider new ideas. For years we drove patrol cars fueled by propane gas, thought at the time to be a boon to the environment. Patrol officers drove Checker cabs because a lieutenant said we could get more life out of the car. Both innovations were eventually scrapped, but Winters wasn’t afraid to try.
Police dogs were another innovation. While Mike Caplenor was the first officer to get a dog, most of us rooted for Jim Zoll to get a dog. You see, Jim kept getting beaten up by people. Jim was a smart guy, who eventually made deputy chief. But his personality was such that he looked at his shoes when he talked to someone on the street. That meant he never saw that first punch coming, and a lot of them did come, even from women. We joked about it then to his face, and will joke about it now, even though he’s retired.
Zoll is now the Chief of Police in Enumclaw, Washington. Being chief, it is unlikely some city councilperson or administrator will take a swing at him. So, it appears Jim is safe in the northwest and won’t need a dog.
Initially Chula Vista evaluated 70 dogs, accepting 5, and finally approved 2. The dogs have to be 25 inches high and 75 pounds, without being mean or aggressive. The dogs and handlers, undergo four months of specialized training.
The dogs learn obedience, agility, and when to go into action. If the handler is in trouble, the dog is trained to attack without a command. Additionally, the dogs cannot be afraid of gunfire.
Dogs are excellent partners because their senses allow them to be good at searching. A police dog can see 10 times better than a human, hear 20 times better, and is 40 times better at smelling. Even better yet, a police dog partner won’t rat you out if you get in trouble.
The department currently has six working dogs, all males, and all Belgian Malinois Shepherds. This breed is widely used as working dogs, especially police work. They are also used for personal protection, and for detecting explosives and any other thing that their sense of smell might reveal.
These dogs resemble German Shepherds, but have a more square presentation. They are active, intelligent, friendly, protective, alert and hard-working. These dogs are playful, and can be playful to a fault, a trait that makes them fun and easy to train because they love to be rewarded, and that is what much of training is about.
The life span of a Malinois Shepherd is in the 12-14 year range. The dogs live with the handler and must be excellent around people, including the officer’s family, especially if he has children. When the dog puts the harness on, he knows it’s time to go to work.
For some reason, people are always asking if they can pet service dogs, both police dogs, and seeing eye dogs. The rule is, if the dog is wearing the harness or leash, he’s working, and should be left alone. It escapes me why people want to pet a strange dog anyway, but that’s my contrary personality.
One of Chula Vista’s dogs, Turbo, is being cross-trained to detect narcotics. Also, if a police dog keys on a suspect, or bites a suspect, juries tend to side with the dog. When the dog retires, he stays on with the family as a pet.