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March 8, 1999 - March 21, 1999
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Protection for Furry Protectors


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By By Louise Knapp Bowser
Guardsman Staff Writer
Published Mar. 8, 1999


A valued member of the San Francisco Police Department gave his life in 1995 while defending his partners. The victim, Sendy, was shot and killed by a hidden gunman waiting in ambush. Though mortally wounded, Sendy was able to bite the gunman who then yelled out and alerted officers of his whereabouts.

Sendy was a longhaired German shepherd. He was the first San Francisco police dog to be killed in the line of duty in 20 years. The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals believes increasing violence on the streets of San Francisco means that if actions are not taken to protect the dog-cops more deaths will occur.

"We felt the dogs were put at such great risk that we had an obligation to provide for their safety," said Lyn Spivak, Public Information Director for the SPCA.

In response to this the SPCA set up a special fundraising drive to provide San Francisco police dogs with bulletproof vests. Spivak said the community responded overwhelmingly to the appeal," with donations reaching $20,000.

Sergeant Bob Del Torre of the San Francisco Police K9 Unit bought eight jackets last July, one for each dog on the force. The dogs are; Bud, the veteran on the force with six years of service, Bar, Mike, Jax, Karlo, Copper, Eddy and Jery. The jackets cost $1,000 each.

The jackets, according to Del Torre, are the same types as those worn by the officers. Made of Kevlar, they are durable, flexible and weigh in at only 6 lbs. Del Torre maintains they will "Stop everything from a .22-caliber weapon to a dirty Harry type .44 Magnum."

If Sendy had been wearing a bulletproof vest when he was attacked he would probably still be here today, Del Torre believes.

The dogs wear the jackets while they train so they become used to them. The police officer always carries the vest in the squad car and they take 20 seconds to put on. The dogs wear them only when the officer feels the situation is a critical one — when an armed suspect needs to be rooted out.

Since San Francisco started employing the vests, at least forty other police departments in Northern California have followed suit, according to Del Torre. In the first two weeks after he purchased the jackets he received eighty or so telephone calls from other police departments with queries about their performance.

The dogs are an invaluable addition to the police force, Del Torre maintains. The K9 unit last year conducted eight hundred twenty building searches and assisted in making three hundred forty felony arrests. The dogs are particularly useful in narcotic detection. Officers are often unable to track down drugs while a dog can usually find them in seconds.

Del Torre remembers one particular example when he and three other officers were unable to locate drugs a suspect threw into a basement filled with garbage. "The K9 unit was called in and the dog found 45 rocks of crack cocaine in three seconds — he just went straight to it."

The officers have automatic door openers on their belts so if they require back up from their dog they can release their dog from the car immediately. Del Torre believes just the presence of the dog deters a lot of attacks on officers. The suspect will see the dog and immediately back off.

Imported from Czechoslovakia and Germany at $5,000 each, the dogs are trained to search out criminals and cross-trained in narcotic detection. Karlo is cross-trained for bomb detection.

While the majority of their training is conducted abroad, the dogs are brought to America and undergo an intensive 8-to-10 week training program where they are put through their paces.

Each dog lives at home with his partner, encouraging comradery, loyalty, and trust.

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Copyright 1996-1998 City College of San Francisco. All rights reserved.  Articles by Guardsman staff writers are copyright by The Guardsman, a student-run publication of the Journalism Department of City College of San Francisco.  Material supplied by the College Press Service is used under license from that organization.  Material reprinted from City Currents is used with the permission of the Public Information Office, City College of San Francisco.