On a recent beautiful, sunny afternoon, Ivan happily rests on the grassy area in front of the Anaheim Police Station, gnawing away at his most prized toy while a couple of small children eagerly pet him. A passerby stops to watch and also asks to pet him.
Anyone watching the scene would be hard-pressed to believe this is the same dog who about a week ago apprehended an attempted murder suspect on the 91 Freeway after an hours-long standoff (click here to read about that).
Such is the life of a police K9.
“They’re just doing what they’re trained [in]and then they’re happy. There’s no vengeance,” said Anaheim PD Officer Brian Bonczkiewicz, who has been Ivan’s handler since the 95-pound, sable-colored German shepherd joined the agency two years ago.
Ivan, who turns 4 on May 16, is trained in narcotics detection and suspect apprehension. He also is a primary APD SWAT K9, meaning he and Bonczkiewicz will come onto a scene when a more tactical response is required – such as in the case of the May 5 pursuit on the 91 Freeway that ended in the standoff.
Bonczkiewicz said that working in SWAT requires Ivan to be comfortable with what other dogs might find disconcerting, including deployment of CS gas, which was used to flush the potentially armed suspect out of the car.
For Ivan to become a SWAT K9, he and Bonczkiewicz had to have additional training (over the six-week academy required for basic K9 training), and the partners undergo at least 30 hours a month of training for suspect apprehension, narcotics detection and SWAT. All of the Anaheim K9s have a mandatory minimum of 18 hours of monthly training and must pass an annual re-certification test.
It’s not always easy to send Ivan out to a dangerous situation — “It’s very difficult because anyone who has a pet, they love him and he becomes a part of the family” — but Bonczkiewicz knows his dog and partner is also saving lives.
“If something ever happened to him, I know he more than likely saved an officer’s life by sacrificing his,” said Bonczkiewicz.
When the suspect on the 91 Freeway exited the vehicle, he made his way to the hood of the car. Before he could get any further, Bonczkiewicz gave Ivan the go-ahead to apprehend the man – which he did.
“Ivan had control of his left hand, so I was able to grab his right arm,” Bonczkiewicz said.
Once the suspect was on the ground, Bonczkiewicz released Ivan from apprehension mode so he could let the suspect go. The suspect was handcuffed and taken into custody.
And Ivan got a much-deserved break (he and Bonczkiewicz, as well as APD Officer RJ Young and his K9, Halo, had been on scene with officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol and Anaheim Police for hours before the arrest).
“Once the threat’s over, I put him back in the [air-conditioned] car, give him some water,” Bonczkiewicz said.
This is Ivan’s sixth suspect apprehension since he became a police dog two years ago. In addition, he’s found $848,000 in drug money, 164 pounds of meth, 102 pounds of cocaine and 15 pounds of heroin.
“Their sense of smell … he’ll sniff it and you go, ‘There is something there,’” he said. “If he could learn to drive and type … I’d be out of a job.’”
All joking aside, Ivan and Bonczkiewicz are a team and they work not only to assist the APD when needed (alongside the five other K9s in the unit), but also other agencies.
“Not every city has a K9 program,” Bonczkiewicz said. “I will get called to go to other cities to assist them through our mutual aid requests.”
When Ivan isn’t helping bust bad guys or chomping on his toy – which he mangles in no time, to Bonczkiewicz’s despair – he’s making friends in the community. They’re regulars at the local schools for Red Ribbon Week and other events, doing demos and putting smiles on kids’ faces.
“He’s very friendly, very affectionate,” Bonczkiewicz said, adding that he’s just like any other dog, except with some extra training.
At home, Ivan gets to play with Cisko, Bonczkiewicz’s first police dog, who is now 10 and retired.
“He likes to steal Cisko’s bone,” he said.
As Ivan waits patiently for Bonczkiewicz on this leisurely afternoon, he not-so-patiently nudges Bonczkiewicz near his pants’ pocket, where Ivan knows his toy is stashed.
It’s clear the good guys have nothing to fear.
But bad guys … watch out.