12/17/2007

New Calif. K-9 aids officers in cases, brings smiles to faces

By Theresa Harrington
San Jose Mercury News

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. — A new K-9 dog is bringing Dutch lingo into the Walnut Creek Police Department and boosting morale among officers.

The 3-year-old German shepherd is called "Orfas" a name given to him at the kennel he came from in Holland. Officer Pat Duggan, who is paired with the dog, said he considered changing the name to something more American, since he doesn't know what Orfas means.

"I've looked all over and done a ton of research," Duggan said. "I can't find anything."

But Duggan decided to keep the name, after a touching conversation with his 3-year-old son.

"He said, 'So you're going to change his name? I'm 3. Can I keep my name?'" Duggan recalled. "So, I came into work and said, 'The name stays.'"

Duggan has learned several Dutch commands during training. For example, "af" (pronounced "off") means "lay down." When he pronounces the commands correctly, Orfas is much more responsive.

"It makes a big difference," Duggan said. "Especially during that initial period, when you're bonding."

Since Orfas joined the department in October, the dog has brought smiles to the faces of officers who had been asking for a K-9 unit for years. The department made the dog a budget priority in May and got him in October.

"Over the last few years, other priorities came before the K-9 unit," said Capt. Craig Zamolo. "But we knew the value this resource would have in our community, so we decided to move forward with it. We had some salary savings due to not being fully staffed at this time."

The department is down about four officers and the city plans to hire a new chief in the next few months to replace Tom Soberanes, who retired in September. With about $20,000 from the patrol budget, the department was able to purchase the dog and a kennel, customize the back seat area of a police car, pay for ongoing training and buy a protective "bite suit."

Officers were so happy to have Orfas on their team that many offered to help purchase a vest for the dog. But that wasn't necessary, because the department ended up footing the bill for about $1,000.

"People were raising their hands, saying 'Take my uniform allowance,'" Duggan said with awe. "Most officers they're a pretty tough group. It was a real nice show of support."

Officer Randy Dickey, president of the Police Officers Association, said the K-9 unit should help attract and retain employees, especially if the city purchases more dogs, expanding the unit.

"The goal is to have a dog on the street almost around the clock," Dickey said. "Sometimes with bad guys, speed is of the essence. And the more time it takes for a canine to get there, the more distance is traveled and the further away you can get."

Although Walnut Creek had a narcotics dog many years ago, it has never had a general patrol dog, said Sgt. Roman Martinez, who supervises the K-9 unit. When police needed a dog to help track someone, they had to call for mutual aid from a neighboring agency.

With their own dog, Walnut Creek police can save time and money, while also providing extra protection to officers. Already, Orfas has successfully tracked and located at least two people police were looking for.

The dog also has searched crime scenes quickly, letting police know no one was hiding there. And when police have confronted criminals to make arrests, they've found that suspects surrendered without trying to run or put up a fight, seeing Orfas standing by.

Duggan and Martinez said they chose Orfas in part because he's a social dog. The department hopes to introduce Orfas to the community through school visits and events.

Orfas was a key player in the city's recent Heather Farm Dog Park grand opening, when he sniffed out a key to the gate and gave it to the mayor. Police are looking for businesses willing to let Duggan and Orfas train in their facilities, as well as sponsors to help purchase another dog and K-9 vehicle, Martinez said.

Duggan, who takes Orfas home with him at the end of his workday, said his pregnant wife and three children have happily welcomed the new dog. His children have tried giving Orfas commands in German, which one of the family pet dogs understands. But Orfas didn't respond.

Although Orfas isn't treated the same as a pet, Duggan said his other dogs are a little jealous of the time he spends with the K-9.

"Out of my whole family," Duggan said, "the only one who's really not thrilled is my German shepherd."

Copyright 2007 The San Jose Mercury News

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