K9 Officers prove themselves eager, resourceful and loyal partners

Three Oregon City police officers don’t show up for roll call, never fill out reports and can’t even drive a patrol car.

But the three K9 officers are highly valued members of the Police Department and have become an integral part of daily operations due to the extraordinary skills they bring to the job.

Not to mention their gung-ho approach to working under even the most difficult conditions. And the way they turn on the charm when they meet members of the community.

“The dogs are a real asset for us,” said Capt. Shaun Davis, a former dog-handling officer who now oversees the K9 program. “They can successfully complete a search in a fraction of the time it would take an officer on his own.”

The dogs have super-keen senses of smell and hearing – way beyond human capabilities. That’s true for all three K9 officers – two tracking dogs and one drug-sniffing dog. Besides finding suspects or drugs, they also lead searches for missing persons, lost children and disoriented dementia patients.

“And the way they’re trained, they look at finding people or evidence to be a big game,” said Officer Dan Shockley, a 17-year OCPD veteran who helped to launch the K9 program. “After they’ve found what they’re looking for, they want to be rewarded.”

A few tugs on a thick woven-jute toy or chasing a ball are all they need to be happy.

Of course, along with sharpened senses, the dogs also bring a mouth full of big teeth. A handler can order his dog to grab or take down a suspect who fights back or refuses to surrender peacefully. Officers say, however, that most suspects give up immediately after they see a dog.

Before Oregon City put its own dogs on the road, OCPD was forced to go begging when officers wanted the help of a police dog. The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, responsible for covering vast expanses of unincorporated territory, has long operated a K9 team. Same with the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

OCPD got its first patrol dog in 2003, with the arrival of a German shepherd named Titus, who partnered with Shockley. Costs for obtaining and training Titus were covered by donations from the community. Veterinary care is donated by Pioneer Animal Hospital and food is provided free by Wilco Farm Store.

Today, Shockley works with Flint, a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois from Germany who has been on the job since November 2010. Just two months later, Flint’s good work played a big part in saving a man’s life.

“In January 2016, we stopped a car near 14th and Main, where the driver and passenger both got out,” Shockley said. “The passenger had that thousand-yard stare that let me know something was wrong with him. When I asked him his name, he ripped the license plate off the car and flung it at me. Then, he began to fight and told me he was going to take my gun.”

Shockley hit his electronic “door popper,” letting Flint loose. In a flash, he clamped down on the suspect’s tricep, holding him while taking one arm out of the fight. When another dog-and-hander team arrived, the suspect surrendered.

Facing a deadly threat, Shockley would have been legally justified in using deadly force.

“He was extremely dangerous,” Shockley said. “But after we took him into custody, he said, ‘What are you guys so worked up about?’ He probably was on drugs and didn’t know what was going on. When I saw him later, he said, ‘Thank you for not shooting me.’ ”

Officer Bill Horton has worked with Mac, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, since 2014. Unlike Flint, who understands commands in German, Mac responds to commands in Dutch.

Horton said Mac lives with him and his family. Like the other officer-handlers, Horton completely trusts the dog around his wife and children.

“They love to scratch his belly,” said Horton, a seven-year OCPD veteran.

All of the dog-and-handler teams go through weekly “maintenance training” with to keep their skills up to par. The teams rotate working out with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, as well as police departments in Lake Oswego, Canby and Woodburn. The training includes obedience, protection (bite work), tracking, area searches, water training, building searches, person searches removing a suspect out of a vehicle.

The training really paid off in 2015, when Horton and Mac were dispatched to investigate an attempted armed robbery and carjacking behind a gas station off Molalla Avenue. When they arrived, a couple of people in the car told Horton the suspect had taken off, running into a residential neighborhood. So, after containment was set up, Horton and Mac began searching.

“Mac then dove under the front porch of a nearby house,” Horton said. “I gave for commands for the suspect to surrender but nobody came out. Then Mac pulled out a backpack containing a weapon and a mask.”

At that point, Mac wanted to search behind the house. Arriving in the backyard, Horton again ordered the suspect to come out and surrender, but got no answer. However, the man's scent gave him away and Mac quickly found him. Confronted by the dog, the man surrendered without incident.

“He would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for Mac,” Horton said.

Officer Jason Pohl’s dog, Grendel, is a completely different type of police dog, offering an extra dimension to investigations. Grendel, a 2-year-old German shepherd donated to OCPD by retired Woodburn Police Capt. Doug Garrett, is trained to sniff out hard drugs. A “three-odor dog,” he can find methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine.

“He wasn’t trained to find marijuana,” said Pohl, a three-year OCPD veteran. “He doesn’t alert on marijuana at all.”

Pohl said case law supports his right to deploy Grendel to sniff the outside of any vehicle that has been stopped for a traffic violation -- as long as Pohl isn’t the primary officer responding to the incident. If Grendel “alerts,” Pohl then has probable cause to obtain a warrant authorizing a search of the vehicle’s interior.

In January, shortly after they began working together, Oregon State Police asked OCPD to send Grendel to sniff a vehicle they had impounded at a Southeast Portland tow yard. State troopers already had obtained a search warrant.

“Grendel found a small amount of drugs,” Pohl said. “But once inside, we also found a ton of stolen property.”

Another time, Officer Tanner Crivellone had stopped a vehicle off Linn Avenue for a traffic violation. When Crivellone asked, the driver consented to a search, cueing Pohl and Grendel into action.

“Grendel then alerted on the backpack in the front seat and the glove compartment,” Pohl said. “We found six grams of meth.”

“I’m super-excited to have him,” Pohl said. “I’m also super-grateful that the Police Department is so supportive of the K9 program.”