It was a dispatch call the Bakersfield Police Department’s K-9 unit had received before.
On Tuesday, April 27th a vehicle reported stolen was spotted along Highway 58, but when approached, the driver failed to yield to officers and the chase began. When the driver crashed the stolen vehicle and fled on foot, the Department’s highly decorated K-9 Jango along with his handler did what they were trained to do — and pursued him.
But then the suspect opened fire, his bullets struck and killed Jango, a Belgian Malinois with one floppy ear, and who had served at the Department for 5 years.
He is the Department’s first K-9 lost in the line of duty.
“This is something we have never dealt with before. We’ve never lost a K-9 in the line of duty,” said Sergeant Jared Diederich, K-9 Unit Supervisor. “We all know the dangers of our jobs, but you try not to think about it. This was a call we’ve gone out on a hundred times before. But the reality is, the K-9 team is tasked with the highest priority calls. They go out to the scariest ones, they are the ones expected to lead pursuits … these are the calls we answer.
“Jango and his handler were always out in front at these calls. They were a dynamic team, very well-orchestrated. But this time when shots were fired, they took one of our team away. And now we have to think about what this means for our K9s.”
In the weeks following the April 27th shooting, the Department has launched an investigation into the loss of both the human (the driver) and K-9. They’ve shared its body-worn camera footage to the community and Jango’s handler is on leave for the next several months to deal with the loss of his partner, while also awaiting the investigation process.
But as it turns out, the loss of Jango hasn’t just left Bakersfield Police Department reeling, it has also affected the community and resulted in an outpour of support, donations, and residents who are mourning the loss of a police officer and man’s best friend.
“I believe the City of Bakersfield is an incredibly supportive community for law enforcement. I am very proud of our community and proud to be a part of it,” said Sgt. Diederich. “This has affected our community because it involves the police, and it involves animals. And people really love their animals. Some more than they love people. Our community’s response has been overwhelmingly humbling.”
In the last few weeks, residents and local businesses have sent letters of sympathy to Bakersfield PD, but they’ve also come together with fundraisers in Jango’s honor. Cornerstone Bakery created Jango cupcakes and cookies and raised about $3,000 that was given to the K-9 team. The Facebook group, Giving Back to the Badge Bakersfield held a parade in Jango’s honor and launched a GoFundMe page to help the PD purchase new body armor vests for all of K-9’S on the team and have raised nearly $4,000.
“Some customers and I were talking about Jango right after it happened, and we were both saying how much it really just hurt. And that sparked something for me,” said Jennifer Mebane, owner of Cornerstone Bakery. “We just really wanted to give back and so I went to the kitchen and started putting some cupcakes and cookies together and posted it to my Instagram not knowing how people would respond, and I tell you what … it just blew up like crazy. We’ve raised almost $3,000 and donated it to the K-9 unit so they would have everything they need to protect the dogs.”
According to Sgt. Diederich, the K-9 team has body armor vests for all of their dogs, but because of how bulky they are, the hot temperatures in Bakersfield and the risk of the dogs overheating – most of the time K-9s don’t operate with body armor unless they are heading into a pre-planned, high-risk situation.
With donations received from the community, the Bakersfield Police Department will soon have specially made vests for all 10 of their K-9s that will be faster to put on and take off, have more breathable ballistic soft armor material to keep them safe, and each one will be properly fitted for each dog’s size and stature.
These new vests will help the K-9s tolerate the high temperatures in Bakersfield, allowing them to wear them more often and increase their safety.
The Department will use the funds donated to the K-9 team from the community groups to purchase the vests along with any other essentials they need to keep their partners safe.
“We can’t say enough about the outpouring of positive support from the community. They have gone above and beyond anything we would have expected. Saying thank you just isn’t enough,” said Sgt. Diederich.
On Friday, May 21st Bakersfield Police Department will hold a memorial ceremony to recognize K-9 officer Jango and his service to the community.
The event is closed to the public, due to Covid-19 Regulations, but it will be live streamed on the Bakersfield Police Department and City of Bakersfield websites starting at 10 a.m.
For more information, please go to the Bakersfield Police Department Facebook, here.