A retired Los Banos Police officer turned crusader for police canine units presented three protective vests for use by three of the four Ceres police canines yesterday.
A presentation of the vests, valued at $1,000 apiece, was held in Whitmore Park and was attended by the ABC-TV news affiliate out of Fresno. The vests offer protection to police canines from knife stabbings as well as bullets.
Bill Westbrook started Los Banos K-9 Association after his retirement to help Valley police departments. He explained that when he was medically forced to retire he wanted to purchase his police canine and started up a Go Fund Me account to raise the funds.
"I said that anything extra would go toward bulletproof vests," said Westbrook, "so I started this nonprofit company. We raise money for canine bulletproof vests."
Westbrook became acquainted with former Ceres canine officer Julio Amador and inquired about needs in Ceres. He bought a vest for one Ceres canine but it was stolen from his car while attending a Garth Brooks concert in Fresno.
"The money that was raised to replace it I was able to buy all three of their dogs' vests," said Westbrook.
Enough money was also raised to provide two vests for Hollister Police Department canines.
A Sheriff's Department canine handled by Deputy Wade Carr was injured in a knife attack during the arrest of a suspect, said Ceres Police Officer Coey Henson.
"In a case like that if they get stabbed in the body or a vital area they'll have protection," said Henson.
The vests are especially tailored to fit three of four Ceres Police canines and can be slipped on quickly when the dogs may be in greatest danger. During the demonstration, Officer Henson slipped a vest on Dex while Ross Bays put one on Klous and Kiashira Ruiz fitted Leo with his. Officer Jesse Gutierrez already had a vest for his dog, Duke.
"It's a great tool to have for when we've got a tactical situation that we can throw those on," said Officer Gutierrez. "I think it's great to have our protection on us and then we have something to put on our dogs."
The vests won't be worn by the dogs all the time, he explained, for reasons of comfort and heat. He said a prime example of a situation where a vest would be strapped on would be to send the dog into an unsecured building to track down and apprehend a suspect.
When working for Modesto Police, Gutierrez said his canine was struck by a suspect armed with a hammer.
"It's a nice tool, especially with budgetary issues," said K-9 Officer Ross Bays. "It's nice having donations like this because I don't think we'd have these vests otherwise.
Gutierrez said officers have to follow policy with regard to releasing dogs for attacks but is astounded how many suspects refuse to surrender even after the threat of a dog release is issued. Many times, however, a suspect voluntarily gives up after hearing an officer issue a command or else face what the dog will do.
"I'd rather have it that way, besides, it's less paperwork for us."