Over his five years on patrol in Westminster, K9 Pako has helped catch more than a few bad guys.
To date, he has four bites and over 50 surrenders under his belt — or collar — as an apprehension dog.
In May of last year, the 8-year-old Dutch shepherd and his partner, Westminster Police Officer Travis Hartman, underwent training in yet another way to help keep the city safe — narcotics detection.
Officially certified as a narcotics detection K9 in September, Pako has already found more than $400,000 in drugs while patrolling for Westminster and assisting other agencies outside the city.
Hartman said Pako is frequently in demand for his new job skill.
“We are getting used pretty regularly by WPD and surrounding agencies,” he said.
In fact, on a recent Saturday night, he was called out to assist Seal Beach Police Department on a call for a suspicious driver. Pako found 2 ounces of methamphetamine hidden on the inside of the driver’s side door of the car.
“He alerted to it in under a minute — 47 seconds,” said Hartman.
The training, which was completed through AEP Services in Fontana, taught Pako how to detect for marijuana, methamphetamine, MDMA, heroin, and cocaine. When Pako finds one of these, he alerts Hartman.
“He sits and looks at me,” said Hartman.
At a recent bite-work and detection training session with AEP owner and trainer Eric Oden, Pako and Hartman performed their monthly narcotics detection certification. The training, which also included Orange County Sheriff’s Department K9s, took place at the James A. Musick detention facility in Irvine.
As part of the training, Oden hid narcotics in boxes throughout three rooms in the facility that contained rows of bunk beds. It was Pako’s job to find the different drugs: 1.5 grams of cocaine, 11 grams of heroin and 1.5 grams of meth.
The trainer doesn’t make it easy, either. Hartman said Oden has used scents as minute as a toothpick sitting in the presence of the narcotic to create the odor dogs will need to find. He will also place the narcotic in something that gives off another strong odor, like a can of coffee.
“These are not easy scenarios,” said Oden. “I make them very difficult.”
Full of enthusiasm because it was training day, Pako energetically searched each room. He sniffed around the beds, on the beds, under the beds and even stood up to get to the top beds. As Pako worked at sniffing, Oden instructed Hartman in the best ways to guide the K9.
“The only reason a dog misses an odor — if he’s properly trained — is because he hasn’t been put in the scent cone,” Oden said.
The scent cone is the area of odor that detection dogs like Pako must track to make their find. The handler’s job is to guide the dog when he sees the K9 sniffing excessively in an area — which could be the scent cone. The handler is also there to keep the K9 safe.
“No. 1 responsibility for the handler is making sure there’s nothing the dog can get hurt on,” said Oden.
He said it’s important for the handler to note where the dog has searched.
“To put him where the dog can be successful,” said Oden.
Each time Pako made a find, he was rewarded with one of his most favorite things: his jute toy. And he got to play with his buddy, Hartman.
Pako clocked out of searching the three rooms at a total of 22 minutes and 4 seconds.
“That’s a lot of searching, but he didn’t stop on you,” Oden told Hartman.
Indeed, Pako walked out as enthusiastically as he walked in.