By Jessica Peralta
Target in sights, Pako stood poised on the edge of the Newport Beach dock, raring to go.
As soon as Westminster Police Officer Travis Hartman gave the command, the K9 shot out into the water, swimming as fast as he could to his mark.
Reaching dry ground and an Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputy – the decoy, in full bite suit — Pako got his prize.
“Every Wednesday it’s like taking him to Disneyland,” Hartman said of the weekly training he and Pako attend with the OCSD.
On this particular Wednesday in June, the training took place at the OCSD Harbor Patrol Newport station and included eight different scenarios in and around the harbor. Some of the other training exercises included detecting the decoy who was hiding underneath the dock in the water and finding the decoy hiding behind a door in the storage area, as well as practicing getting in and out of a boat and riding out on the boat to then have the dogs jump out and swim back to the dock.
“We know that he will do this in the water… We know that he will do this in the helicopter… It all goes back to my city,” said Hartman of the variety of types of training scenarios they practice and how it all benefits their patrol work. “It’s a comfort level for him and I.”
The group training Hartman and Pako participate in with the sheriff’s department rotates every week at all kinds of locations. The harbor training happens once a year, as does helicopter training – which involves going out near the 241 Toll Road to practice flying and landing in the valley with the dogs in the helicopter. Not surprisingly, some of the dogs can get nervous on the helicopter. But Pako has a different reaction.
“He’ll sit up and stare out of the helicopter,” Hartman said.
Other training includes apprehension and drug detection work in warehouses, closed office buildings, courthouses and hospitals, and even on a military base.
“You want to try to give them as much opportunity to be exposed to a wide variety of things,” Hartman said.
A police K9 for two years, the 5-year-old, 68-pound Belgian Malinois/Dutch shepherd has logged three apprehension-related bites and about 100 surrenders so far in his career.
Working patrol Wednesday through Saturday nights, Pako will assist on a number of calls, including suspect pursuits, barricade situations and agency assists. Just a couple of weeks ago, Pako and Hartman helped the Costa Mesa Police Department with handling search warrants related to a gang shooting. In the last month, they’ve assisted outside agencies –without their own K9s or those just needing extra support – six times.
Pako’s latest apprehension was in December of a suspect in Westminster who was wanted for assault with a deadly weapon and brandishing a knife. Pako was getting out of the police car when the suspect turned to run toward the officers.
“Pako assisted him to the ground,” Hartman said.
He’s good at his job, but injuries do happen.
In September 2016, Pako tore his side during a warehouse search, requiring 27 stitches. Hartman used a first aid kit he’d previously assembled together to stop the bleeding and take Pako to the vet. Because of that experience, Hartman knows the importance of a good first aid kit, and so is thankful for the one recently donated to Pako by the K9 Guardians Foundation including everything from wound powder, eye ointment and alcohol pads to gauze, a thermometer kit, tongue depressor, tourniquet, forceps and suture with needle.
When in apprehension mode, Pako’s all business – but when he’s got his public face on, it’s all about the love.
“He’ll roll over and give me his belly,” Hartman said.
Pako certainly knows how to get along – he not only shares his home with a German shepherd, a beagle and Jack Russell terrier but also with Hartman’s 4-month-old.
And he’s become quite the community ambassador as well, with his own Instagram page (@westminsterpolicek9) boasting about 1,300 followers, and quite the positive reputation in the city.
“It’s not uncommon in the city driving down the street … you can hear people calling out to him,” Hartman said.
Meet Pako and other Orange County police K9s at the Orange County Police Canine’s 29th Annual Police K9 Demonstration Oct. 14 at Glover Stadium in Anaheim. The show is a fundraiser for the nonprofit OCPCA, benefitting police K9s. For more on local news, practices and personalities in law enforcement, go to www.behindthebadgeoc.com.