SPOTLIGHT: San Angelo Police Department’s K9 Unit Working Hard

It’s no secret there have been a lot of drug busts within the streets of San Angelo lately.

According to the FBI, approximately 1,572,579 arrests for drug law violations occurred in 2016.

There are several units within the San Angelo Police Department that work hard to clean up illegal narcotics from our streets.

San Angelo NOW sat down with the K9 unit to get an inside look at the training, the life of the dogs and why this specific unit is so essential to drug cleanup within the community.

This unit within the department consists of four officers: Sergeant Gesch, Officer Tumlinson, Officer Flores and Officer Fincher. Tumlinson is paired with Vader, similar to the Star Wars villain, and Flores is paired with Duke. Both dogs are Belgian Malinoise. Officer Fincher is handler to Xander and Sergeant Gesch is handler to Thor. Xander and Thor are Dutch Shepherds.

Officer Flores & Duke

Officer Fincher & Xander

Officer Tumlinson & Vader

Sergeant Gesch & Thor

The K9 unit works within the department to detect the presence of narcotics such as marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

Before joining this unit, an officer is required a probationary period of one year as a patrolman. Officers can then begin to work with the K9 unit as a volunteer or begin training to be a part of the unit.

Officer Fincher and Sergeant Gesch were both hired on in 2011. Gesch is what the three other officers refer to as the “boss” of the unit (under Chief Carter, of course). Officer Fincher attended extra training in Bandera, where the dogs are purchased from, which allotted him the position of trainer among the small team. While every officer is individually a handler of their own canine, they unanimously agreed that Fincher is who they all look to for guidance when it comes to training.

“When you train a dog, you combine different aspects of the training from different people and we all bring something to the table.” Sergeant Gesch said. “The ultimate goal is making a successful canine. It’s a team effort.”

When they aren’t tackling the unfortunate amount of drug use in this town, their other duties include patrol, criminal apprehension, tracking and trailing, along with area searches.

Contrary to what may be seen on popular crime shows, the K9 unit does not usually assist with missing person cases. This is because there is always a possibility that if someone were to jump out during the search, including the missing person, they could be injured because the dog is on the defensive.

They say that a dog is a man’s best friend. That is certainly true of these officers’ relationship with their canines.

The dogs are picked out in Bandera, Texas at the Hill Country Dog Center. This facility raises different types of dogs specifically for military service and the police force.

The San Angelo Police Department’s K9 unit chooses Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois for their team. The original breed used for police dogs were German Shepherds. They were also used in WWI, WWII and the Vietnam War.

Each handler is matched with a specific dog and those dogs get to go home to live with their handlers. They live normal lives when they are not on duty, but officers do have to keep an eye out when around civilians to make sure that a civilian isn’t perceived as an attacker.

Not to worry, these canines are well trained on the differences between civilians and those who pose a threat to an officer or interfere with an investigation. During their trainings on Wednesday night, the officers train the dogs to recognize the difference by posing as both friendly civilians in everyday clothing as well as attackers. Canines identify first by scent, then by voice and later by silhouette. Their sense of smell is 12 times stronger than humans and allows them to identify drugs up to four times faster than humans. Police canines can be either male or female, but the SAPD canines are all male currently.

These canines also serve as officer protection while in the field and not just of their assigned officer.

“I had an incident where one man was very unhappy with his neighbor.” Tumlinson said. “He got agitated and began to advance towards me and Officer Fincher’s canine got in between us and most likely saved me from taking a severe beating.”

It turns out that most people are likely to back off once the dogs get involved.

The K9 unit also assists other units in their duties and investigations. They work along side the Street Crimes division as well as the Anti-Crime unit to protect the community.

If anyone within the community is looking for ways to help the K9 unit that works so hard to protect our city, donations are all that is requested.

The purchase of a dog starts at $9,000 and easily reaches $14,000 within a lifetime of service. The canines of the police force require muzzles, leashes, products for training and the K9 unit vehicles require special kennels and a “Hot Dog” system which protects the dogs while they’re in the vehicle.

Vader

Police dogs were first used in 1907 in New York City.

For more information, the K9 unit has their own Facebook page. Civilians can also view training videos on YouTube.

*Photos Property of San Angelo NOW

*Videos Property of San Angelo Police Department K9 Unit