Juliana Burns, Intern
CDCR Office of Public and Employee Communications

On the weekend of July 18-19, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) had two K-9 teams place in the Western State Police Canine Handlers Association (WSPCA) competition, testing the K-9 teams’ search capabilities in vehicles and buildings.

Correctional Officer Miguel Vasquez and his K-9 partner Cricket placed third in the building searches and Correctional Officer Paul Avery and his K-9 partner Scout placed second in building searches and fourth in the entire competition.

The K-9 search trials allow all of the participating teams two searches, one of a vehicle and the other inside of a building. As part of the narcotic-detection portion of the trials, judges planted marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine inside vehicles, buildings and outside areas.

Each K-9 team was judged on how many of the concealed drugs were found and how quickly. Awards are given to the top five teams in each search type, then the points from both searches are calculated and an overall award is given to the top five teams. Each trial has approximately 25-35 K-9 teams competing from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

Officer Miguel Vasquez and Cricket.

Officer Miguel Vasquez and Cricket.

Officer Vasquez, a 12-year CDCR veteran, is a K-9 handler from Mule Creek State Prison.

Vasquez and Cricket have been working together for one and a half years and have participated in several search competitions. Cricket is a 3-year-old black Labrador retriever who has already made a name for himself since February when he first started competing in the searches.

In 2014, Vasquez and Cricket entered their first WSPCA competition. Although their first competition did not go as well as they wanted, the team continued to work hard and the next trial they entered, they earned fourth place overall. Since then, they have earned seven awards in the past 14 months of competing against the best K-9 teams in the West.

“It’s a fact, every trial we attend, we compete with the best and we have proven CDCR has some of the best canines, handlers and trainers,” Officer Vasquez said.

Vasquez and his K-9 partner  are working toward the next three competitions before their scores are averaged and they see how well they did overall for the year.

Another team competing in these searches is Officer Robert Binder and his K-9 partner Storm. Officer Binder and Storm have been working together for almost five years and started the competitions as a way of helping Storm overcome her shyness.

Storm is a 5-year-old Belgian malinois who graduated from Narcotics training in 2012. By her second competition, Storm earned first place in vehicle searches and second place overall. With the help of Officer Binder, Storm has conquered her shyness and since won 16 awards in 12 competitions.

Officer Christopher Salopeck and Taser.

Officer Christopher Salopeck and Taser.

Giving them a run for their money is Officer Christopher Salopeck and his K-9 partner Taser. Officer Salopeck has been working for CDCR for 21 years and has been with Taser for five years. Taser is a  6-year-old German Shepard who is quickly becoming an old master of the competitions. Officer Salopeck says that one of the most useful parts of the competitions is “being able to meet with other officers and talk (about techniques).”

The competitions have allowed the teams to practice, exchange ideas and learn more efficient ways to keep the prisons safe, and the K-9s have fun too, according to the handlers.

Officer Avery said his partner Scout loves to go to work.

“Scout even ‘patrols’ my backyard while he waits for me to put my uniform on,” Officer Avery said. “He can hardly contain his excitement when he hears me open the patrol car door to load him up for our work day.”

Officer Avery has been with CDCR for seven years, but only teamed up with Scout this last January at Folsom State Prison. Scout is a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois trained to find narcotics. Together, the team has only competed in one competition so far but already did well earning second place in the building search, narcotics category and fourth place overall.

Officer Avery said, “I feel so fortunate to have a career where I get to take my partner to work and home every day. He has become a part of my family and I am so grateful to have Scout as my partner.”

Officer Paul Avery and Scout.

Officer Paul Avery and Scout.

This energetic, hard-working pair looks forward to more competitions and a promising partnership.

Officer Avery also works with another K-9 pair, Officer Eric Walton and his partner E’Rase Enfer avec du Deluje or simply “Robbie.”

Robbie is also a Belgian Malinois who is almost 5 years old and has been a trained narcotics detection K-9 since he was only a year old. Officer Walton and Robbie have placed in several of the competitions ranging from fifth to third place. The two continue to learn and grow together and eagerly look forward to the next competition, he said.

Another stand out CDCR K-9 team is Officer Orgazan and her K-9 Blue. While Blue may be the oldest CDCR K-9 at 10 years old, he hasn’t slowed down, and continues to be one of the department’s top K-9s. Orgazan has been working with Blue for five years. Together they earned first place overall competing against 38 other agencies in their first competition at Travis Air force base. Their next scheduled competition is on Aug. 28 in Vallejo. In May 2013, Blue was diagnosed with Stage 1 cancer. Fortunately, it was detected early and Blue was able to make a full recovery.

Officer Orgazan and Blue.

Officer Orgazan and Blue.

Law enforcement agencies competing within WSPCA include: San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department; Galt Police Department; West Sacramento Police Department; Travis Air Force Base; Placer County Sheriff’s Department; U.S. Customs; San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department; Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department; South Lake Tahoe Police Department; San Leandro Police Department; California Highway Patrol; Alameda Police Department; Tracy Police Department; Yuba County Sheriff’s Department; and Elk Grove Police Department.

Read more stories about CDCR K-9 teams, http://www.insidecdcr.ca.gov/?s=k-9