CARLSBAD — Maverick, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, hangs out at home and notices his handler changed into his uniform. The dog’s unbridled excitement kicks into overload. Instinctively, Maverick knows that it’s just a matter of time before Carlsbad police Officer Gary Marshall loads him into their patrol car.
Maverick is one of the four K-9 police dogs that work at the Carlsbad Police Department. The police K-9 unit plays a valuable role in the department providing a unique level of efficiency.
Former K-9 handler Sgt. Chris Boyd describes the dogs as a tool used to enhance the safety of their officers and for the whole community.
“Without the presence of a dog, we may devote significant resources and may not even find a suspect that is hiding from us,” Boyd said. “Usually, the mere presence of a dog is enough to de-escalate the situation.”
According to Boyd, often when a suspect hears the announcement that a police K-9 is on site, they surrender on the spot.
The K-9 unit rolls into action when a suspect escapes and seeks cover. The dog’s keen sense of smell leads the way. A few months ago, Marshall and Maverick had their first such apprehension.
One night, two persons of interest wanted for a car burglary, took off running into a large thick brush area.
While police backup was establishing their perimeter, Marshall clipped a 30-foot leash on Maverick and made several K-9 warning announcements. They went ignored.
“I gave Maverick the command to start trailing and he led me up this dark, steep landscape area up to a hillside and we were paralleling to a covert; we got to one point where there was a big bush covering a drain,” he said.
“Maverick looked over and I saw a black shadow and it looked like a person who was huddling down, hiding.”
Marshall called out to the suspect to show their hands and get up. The person refused. “I gave Maverick the command to apprehend him and he did an awesome job,” Marshall said. “It was amazing — all the work and practice we’ve done paid off.”
A short time later, the other suspect surrendered.
Once a week, the K-9 unit meets with trainer Manuel Villanueva of Man-K-9 in Oceanside to fine-tune their skills. Villanueva procures, tests, selects and trains police dogs for the Carlsbad department.
For Villanueva, it’s all about a dog’s genetics. He keeps an eye out for a sound temperament while a dog demonstrates high levels of courage and confidence.
“Being able to adjust to different environments and situations are essential for the dog to be dependable out on the streets,” said Villanueva, noting that the animal must accept the officer as his leader.
Oftentimes, if an alarm is triggered at a commercial building, K-9 teams are deployed. Although some calls are false alarms, Boyd said, they go with the mindset that each call is legitimate.
“It could take a dozen man hours to search a building for a potential suspect,” he said. “With a dog, it can be done in 30 to 45 minutes.”
The police dogs also sniff out criminal evidence such as guns, knives or bullet casings. So far, one Carlsbad K-9 is cross-trained in narcotics detection.
Currently, three dogs are SWAT-certified. Boyd, who is a part of the Carlsbad Police Department SWAT team, said they have a higher level of training while acclimating to their handler in armored gear.
Recently, the SWAT team executed a high-risk warrant service in Carlsbad in support of an FBI investigation. The Oceanside Police Department SWAT team was also on hand.
“There were three warrants and they were served simultaneous to one another at 5 a.m.,” Boyd said. “We utilized two of our certified K-9 teams on the perimeter of our location and used them as a deterrent to suspects attempting to flee the residence but also to garner their cooperation in coming out.”
The investigation uncovered high-powered firearms.
Despite their high drive, these police dogs are social and go home with the officers. The K-9 teams also interact with students at elementary schools during demonstration presentations.
Boyd pointed out that their dogs enjoy what they do because it’s like a game.
Villanueva describes the Carlsbad K-9 unit as a dedicated group of officers and a pleasure to work with.
“I know it’s in their heart to be a K-9 handler,” he said. “And they love their dogs.”