Anywhere but home, dogs are working
Dana Simas, Public Information Officer
It’s a scorcher of a day, but these officers know there’s a job that needs to be done.
They reported for duty around 5:30 a.m. and start working the housing unit at California Medical Facility (CMF) in Vacaville, their first of the three prisons they will visit today. They go in and out of the cells, trying to help California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) fight against contraband in our prisons.
They’re K-9 officers Blue and Scout and they work side-by-side with their handlers, Correctional Officer Macaria Orgazan and Sgt. Jeremy Packard as part of CDCR’s Northern Region K-9 Unit.
Sgt. Packard is the Northern Region K-9 Coordinator which extends from Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy up to Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City.
Sgt. Packard received his first K-9 partner approximately three years ago. Folsom State Prison (FSP) Warden Rick Hill called him and said that the prison was receiving two K-9s but no extra positions.
Sgt. Packard was excited about the opportunity. Today his partner is 4-year old Belgian Malinois named Scout, but several months ago Sgt. Packard had a different partner. His previous K-9 partner, Max, had to be retired due to hip problems. He is now living with a fellow Folsom State Prison staff member and enjoying the leisurely life.
For the last three months, Sgt. Packard and Scout had proven to be a great team. Scout is trained to detect cell phones, tobacco and narcotics.
“(Scout) knows that anywhere but home, we’re working,” Sgt. Packard said.
Today, Sgt. Packard and Scout are joined by Correctional Officer Macaria Orgazan and her K-9 partner Blue to search housing units at CMF, FSP, and California State Prison-Sacramento.
Officer Orgazan, a seven-year veteran with CDCR, has handled Blue, an 8-year old Belgian Malinois, for approximately two and half years. Times got tough for the pair when Blue was diagnosed with Stage 1 cancer at the end of May. Fortunately, the cancer was detected early for which Blue received treatment and was able to rejoin the CDCR K-9 force.
Blue is trained to detect narcotics, and he’s pretty good at it. One day, while Blue was inside the CDCR vehicle waiting to go perform his job, he started pawing at the window and portraying the same characteristics he is trained to perform when he has found contraband.
“I let him out of the vehicle and he runs straight for a trash can nearby,” Officer Orgazan said. “From inside of the vehicle (Blue) detected a ‘drop’ near the trash which turned out to include 140 grams of marijuana.”
Today is like any day. The K-9s are excited to go find some contraband. It seems like fun and games to Scout and Blue, but to the inmates whose cells they’re about to search, it’s anything but.
At the previous search earlier in the morning, the pair found tobacco, phones, marijuana, and methamphetamine.
Today it’s just Blue and Scout, but some searches include up to four dogs and a sweep of an entire housing unit in just 30 minutes.
Based on intelligence gathered by institution Investigative Services Units, K-9 teams are requested to perform searches, often resulting in contraband finds that may not have been found otherwise.
The dogs seem to know exactly where they’re going and all eyes are on them as they walk through the yard and past hundreds of inmates. Officer Orgazan and Sgt. Packard split up and start searching the cells with their K-9 partners. They point up, down, in cupboards, under beds.
No place is overlooked—or oversniffed.
“I can pretty much tell if he thinks he’s on to something,” Officer Orgazan said. “I can see the changes in his behavior and so I know we need to look a little harder.”
The teams work their way through the housing unit and leave it to the custody staff to continue the search once an alert has been made by the K-9 officer.
Once the search is over the teams head back to their vehicle or office, or maybe take a little time for a good ol’ fashion game of fetch.
While the dogs anxiously await either the next job or their trip home, the human K-9 partner is busy writing supplemental reports to document if any alerts were made and contraband found.
Typically, the dogs know when their day is over.
“(Blue) knows our routine perfectly,” Officer Orgazan said.
“(Scout) knows exactly when I’m supposed to feed him,” Sgt. Packard added.
The teams work or train every day to ensure the dogs are kept focused and ready to do their best when they’re searching for contraband.
“The dog is number one,” Sgt. Packard said. “(The dogs) have to work every day.”
Since the dogs are highly-trained working dogs it is difficult for officers assigned to the K-9 teams to turn work off. When a K-9 officer goes on vacation the dogs must stay with those who are trained to handle them, they’re not like your typical family dog. The dogs are on very regular routines and when those routines stray even just a little they can get anxious. The K-9 officers say though that they all help each other since they all know the responsibility that it takes to be part of CDCR’s K-9 Unit.
It can be full of long days and includes bringing at least a part of your work home with you everday, but being a K-9 officer means unconditional love and loyalty back from your partner.
When asked if he’d join the K-9 team all over again, Sgt. Packard stated, “absolutely, I love it.”