The welcome reception for new officers with the Turlock Police Department is more likely to include coffee and pastries and not Milk Bones and chew toys, but an exception was made for Varick and Keyser.
The two newest members of the police department come via a successful effort to reinstate the K9 Unit in Turlock, which was suspended in 2008 due to budget cutbacks. Varick is a male sable German Shepherd and Malanois mix about two and a half years old and is partnered with Officer Nim Khamo. Keyser is a male black German Shepherd about three years old and is partnered with Officer Queray McMihelk.
Reinstating the K9 Unit is costing the department approximately $75,000, said Lt. James Silveira, who is overseeing the unit. The cost covers the purchase of the two dogs, a five week handler course for the officers, outfitting a police car, and the various equipment and training aids.
“These two dogs are patrol dogs,” Silveira said. “They will be used for tracking and locating hiding or fleeing suspects and searching for evidence. They will also be trained on keeping their handlers safe.”
Both McMihelk and Khamo said they are eager to get their new partners out on patrol with them, which should be within a few weeks.
“It’s great knowing that I’ll have that instant back up while out on patrol,” Khamo said. “People see him and give a second thought about their actions.”
“I’ve always enjoyed dogs and had them as pets,” McMihelk said. “When I heard we were bringing the K9 unit back, I jumped at the chance to be a part of it and now here we are five weeks later and I have a new partner.”
The training for the dogs and the handlers is extensive and intense. Outside of learning commands or how to issue them, the training is a time for dog and handler to bond and form that element of trust that will be key to the partnership.
Once the trainers get a chance to meet the handlers they try and match them with a dog that shares some of the same personality traits. McMihelk said both he and Keyser could be described as hyper at times, while Khamo admitted he and Varick share a stubborn streak.
Being a handler in the K9 unit means the work goes home with the officer — literally. The dogs live with the officers and often become a member of the family. It also means the officers are always on call and constantly reinforcing the dog’s training.
“Obedience is something that has to be worked on at work and at home routinely,” McMihelk said.
Besides the safety factor that a canine can contribute to an officer on patrol, they also are great for public relations said Turlock Police Chief Robert Jackson, himself a former K9 handler.
“Almost everybody loves a dog,” Jackson said. “The dogs break down barriers and are great tools for connecting with the community.”