Pako, a 70-pound Dutch shepherd, had been an official police dog for all of one hour before he was called to his first assignment.
A domestic violence suspect had barricaded himself in an RV, ignoring police officers’ commands to come out.
For nearly an hour, they tried.
It was reported the man, wanted on a warrant, possibly had a knife.
K-9 handler Travis Hartman was familiar with the suspect — a 6-foot-tall tattooed man who could be volatile, uncooperative and even dangerous.
Hartman arrived with Pako, and all eyes were on the new K-9.
Pako is the first K-9 the department has had in 20 years.
Westminster PD was previously four-dogs strong, but because of budget constraints, the program was retired in 1995.
Cmdr. Bill Collins said it has been a group effort to bring Pako to the team, and the department hopes to later add another dog.
“We have wanted a K-9 for a long time,” he said. “Chief Kevin Baker really got this going with the support of City Council and city manager.”
A resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, donated the $10,000 to purchase Pako. The program’s costs, fittingly, will be sustained by money recovered from drug busts and arrests.
“K-9s are a tool to keep officers safe,” Collins said. “Instead of officers going into a building, it’s a lot safer to send a dog in.”
Safer, and more efficient.
It would take a team of officers about an hour to clear a building the size of the Westminster Police Department.
It would take Pako 15 minutes.
Pako’s sense of smell is 1 million times better than his human counterpart, and his hearing 15 times better.
“He is a locating tool,” Hartman said. “He finds people and things and will save anywhere from 800 to 1,000 man hours a year.
“He’s going to be a huge help.”
He’s also great at catching, or at the very least intimidating, the bad guys.
“Having a dog is a deterrent,” Hartman said. “He can scare a suspect enough to (comply).”
Getting Pako took months of planning and weeks of training. Next on the list is sending the K-9 to training to specialize in locating narcotics.
The 3-year-old Dutch shepherd was a top performer in his training class, and Hartman said he knew instantly they’d be partners.
“He was very alert,” Hartman said. “He was born and bred for police work.”
Since age 12, Hartman has wanted to be a K-9 handler. His brother has been a handler in Stanislaus County for the last seven years.
“It’s always been something I wanted,” he said. “I’ve just been hoping we’d get a K-9 program, and it came true.”
Sooner than Hartman anticipated, he and his K-9 were in action.
Hartman received the call at about 9 a.m. April 24 to respond with Pako to a home on Burning Tree Street, where that suspect had barricaded himself in the RV.
That morning, the pair was on their way home from the K-9 graduation ceremony. Pako wasn’t expected to start patrol until April 29.
Just as police were familiar with this suspect, the suspect also was familiar with WPD.
So when Hartman and Pako arrived on scene, Hartman said he believes the suspect assumed the threat of sending a K-9 in was a bluff.
“It’s been known that Westminster hasn’t had a K-9 in a long time,” he said.
When Hartman first announced they would send Pako in, the suspect didn’t comply.
Then Pako gave a warning of his own.
“He started to bark and the guy then realized, ‘OK this is not a bluff,’” Hartman said. “He yelled, ‘I’m coming out.’”
The suspect slowly exited the RV and when he saw WPD’s newest member, he lifted his hands higher up in the air.
“There was no confusion about why the suspect came out when he did,” Hartman said. “It was interesting to see his eyes get that wide.”
Hartman said his colleagues also were interested to see the way Pako helped diffuse the situation.
“It was nice to see the relief on the other officers’ face,” he said. “People know he knows what he’s doing, and he’s going to be part of the team.
“I’m excited to watch him work.”