El Centro’s Police Department has gone to the Dogs

Officer Filemon Magana and his K-9 Partner "Bico"
Officer Filemon Magana and his K-9 Partner “Bico”

EL CENTRO-  El Centro Police Department proudly debuted their first ever K-9 unit Wednesday at Central Union High School. Out to demonstrate the new unit’s proficiency were Officer’s James Thompson and Filemon Magana. Along for the ride, were their two canine partners, Tico and Bico.

The El Centro Police Department started this K-9 program back in December of 2014. Originally from the Von Liche Kennels in Holland, Tico and Bico began their venture in the state of Indiana. These two strapping Belgian Malinois then settled in Banning, California where they awaited future selection for the K-9 unit training process.

After a suitable choice had been made, canine handlers, Thompson and Magana attended an eight week training academy with their new crime fighting partners. Each handler and K-9 team is required to pass several certifications before being deployed into the field. Their goal was to set out and master the requirements needed for patrol. By the end of the eight week mark, the K-9 teams were successfully certified by the California Narcotic Canine Association and accordingly met the demands of the Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T).

The training process focused on an array of patrol, detection, and apprehension exercises. The canines learned obedience, agility, and tracking. During the training, Tico and Bico were encouraged to search for articles that were potentially discarded by a suspect. They then utilized any findings to track down the suspects themselves. These evidence and tracking searches took place in open-area as well as building settings in attempts to test the canine’s narcotics and human scent recognition in any given situation.

Active duty canines, like Tico and Bico, are often mistaken as vicious and intimidating to the average passerby. Contrary to popular belief, these dogs actually feel no anger or hostility toward the suspect; they are only doing the job they are trained for. Throughout the training, the dogs are instructed to bite and grab hold of the suspect that they have been told to go after by their handler. In emergency field situations, Officers Thompson and Magana have access to a remote control door opener that ensures the canines release from their squad car at the touch of a button. This can be used in aggressive situations such as when these officers are being held down or are even at gunpoint.

During training, the dogs are never mistreated and are trained strictly on a reward basis.

“At the end of the day these canines are just as sociable as any other dog. When the canines chase down a criminal, they think they are playing a game.” said Officer Magana.

During the field demonstration, the officers were able to give a visual on the process of how the canines track down narcotics.

When tracking, Tico and Bico kept their noses near the ground, where they then set out to detect the given scent and sniff out any possible disturbances.

“A canine’s nose is thousands of times more sensitive than the average human nose. While humans can detect the smell of something like soup, a canine can smell each and every ingredient in the soup and distinguish them. This is how Tico and Bico are able to detect drugs even through the criminal may use extreme measures to hide the smell.” said El Centro Police Commander, Robert Sawyer.

Along with the responsibility of looking out for their canines in the field, Thompson and Magana are also responsible for the care of their dog partner twenty-four seven. The dogs live at home with their handlers in a kennel provided by the city. The handlers take them home every day, feed them, bathe them, exercise them and give them lots of love.

“He’s like another one of my children.” said Officer Thompson.

Like most officers off duty, these canines simply want to rest and relax when they get home. Once the dogs have had time to recover from their long work week, the handlers like to take them for nice walks around their neighborhoods and play with them in their yard.

The funding that made this program possible primarily stemmed from what is known as asset forfeiter. Each specialized canine cost up to twenty thousand dollars and the equipment essential to the K-9 program bumped the total to about one hundred thousand dollars. Much of the vital equipment needed was funded by names we’ve come to know and support around our own community.

Border patrol awarded the Stonegarden grant that went towards purchasing the kennel equipped K-9 unit vehicles. A community group called Kiwanis funded the ballistic vests for the canines and the Rotary club donated a bite suit used to protect the mock suspect volunteer from the canines attack response.

The El Centro Police Department plan is to go through this unique process again, in hopes to add two more canines to their taskforce within the next year.