Back in 2002 during my first year at POLICE, we published a memorial page for all of the law enforcement officers killed during the 9/11 attacks. As we prepped the list, we discovered at the bottom the name of a K-9, Sirius. We didn't know what to do. Did a dog really belong on a list of law enforcement officers who gave their lives in the line of duty? We soon learned that he did. So Sirius, the Port Authority Police Department explosive detection K-9, is forever enshrined with the other heroes who died that terrible day.
People who don't understand the role of K-9s in American law enforcement probably find that odd. I know I did back then. But I've since had the privilege to see these dogs in action, and it is amazing what they can do.
The primary mission of a law enforcement K-9 is to mitigate risks for both officers and the public. Which means a lot of K-9s get injured and killed on the job.
Last month was particularly bloody for K-9s and tragic for their handlers. One dog was killed and two others were seriously injured in fights with desperate and dangerous suspects.
On March 12, U.S. Forest Service K-9 Maros was killed in the foothills of the North Carolina mountains. As mentioned, the training of every law enforcement K-9 teaches them to protect their handlers and other officers at all costs. Unfortunately, Maros wasn't able to save his handler.
Maros and his handler Forest Service Officer Jason Crisp were searching for a man who was suspected of killing his parents. The search brought Crisp, Maros, and other officers into a direct confrontation with the suspect. Shots were exchanged. Crisp and Maros were both killed. The suspect was later killed in a shootout with officers.
Crisp and Maros were honored at a joint memorial that was attended by hundreds of officers and their K-9s. During the ceremony, Andy Brinkley, Crisp's supervisor, said that both "Maros and Jason were warriors. Warriors take the fight to the enemy. Warriors go into harm's way when all others flee." Maros' remains were cremated and buried with Crisp.
Albuquerque Police K-9 Rico was shot and seriously injured on March 21 during a burglary call at C.T. Towing in the northeastern part of the city. When Rico, a Belgian malinois, and his handler arrived on the scene, he was sent in to locate the intruder.
Rico located the suspect. Then the suspect opened fire. Rico was hit three times in the head and neck.
Officers rushed the wounded dog to an emergency veterinarian. A police spokesperson told the Albuquerque Journal that Rico had suffered "massive trauma" but survived the surgery. At press time, his condition was still serious but he was expected to survive.
In a bizarre twist to the story, the suspect was later found dead in the towing yard. Albuquerque PD says none of its officers discharged their weapons during the incident. At press time no cause of death had been determined, but I imagine quite a few of you are hoping it turns out to be dog bite.
The afternoon before Rico was shot, another police dog was even more grievously wounded in action.
On March 20 around 2 p.m. in Anaheim, Calif., a probation officer came under fire. The PO wasn't hit, and the suspect fled. SWAT was dispatched to catch him.
Officer R.J. Young and his K-9 Bruno also joined the hunt. Bruno found the suspect hiding behind a trash can, and the suspect opened fire on the dog and the officers. Bruno was hit in the face. Officers shot back, and the suspect was killed. Bruno was rushed to a veterinary hospital.
The bullet smashed Bruno's jaw and struck his chest, penetrating a lung. Veterinary surgeons operated on Bruno for three hours, removing part of his lung and rebuilding his jaw. The round missed his aorta by less than an inch.
At press time Bruno was expected to survive. But it is unlikely that he will ever work again. Officer Young plans to purchase his furry partner from the city.
Bruno is being credited with having saved the life of at least one Anaheim officer during the incident. So before he starts enjoying his well-deserved retirement as Young's pet, he will likely be receiving some honors.
"Bruno did his job," Anaheim PD Sgt. Steve Pena told KTLA. "That's why we have the dogs—they keep the officers safe. They find the bad guys so officers can stay behind cover."
There's an old saying that if you want a friend, get a dog. K-9 handlers will tell you that no truer words have ever been spoken.