Diesel, the newest addition to the Ceres Police Department K-9 squad, has already earned high marks. The three-year-old black German Shepherd started work on Jan. 21 and already assisted in sniffing out $12,000 in drug sales money during a California Highway Patrol traffic stop in Ceres.
The Czechoslovakia raised dog also sniffed out a storage locker facility and alerted on one unit that contained 70 pounds of marijuana.
"I think they're going to do a great job together," said Ceres Police Lt. Brent Smith, who introduced the dog and its handler Officer Bryan Ferreira to the Ceres City Council last week.
During the presentation to the council Mayor Chris Vierra commented "it's a beautiful dog." That's when Councilmember Linda Ryno drew laughs when she inserted: "But he's staring at me."
Ryno later tried to pet the dog but was told that he is not ready for that yet.
"He's really protective of Bryan and through training we'll work it out ... dogs are dogs and some of them you're able to do a lot more stuff with so you just got to know your animal and know what they're capable of."
After purchasing the dog and accompanying training package from Vigilant Canine Service, Inc., for $8,000, Ferreira recently spent five weeks in Red Bluff with the dog for bonding and training. At the end of training, Diesel became certified as a police service dog through the California Peace Officers Standard and Training (POST).
Diesel and his fellow canine counterparts in Ceres, is capable of sniffing out five different types of narcotics - methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana, cocaine and MDMA, commonly known as "ecstasy." The K-9s are also trained to protect their handlers, track drugs and suspect apprehension. The dogs are also among the first sent into a business or residence where an alarm has been set off and there's an open door or window.
"It's just safer that way," said Lt. Smith.
Axel, Officer Julio Amador's canine, recently proved worth his weight in dog food during the manhunt for Brian Qualls, who allegedly had invaded a southwest Ceres house, assaulted the homeowner and ran off. About 45 minutes later, the canine tracked down Qualls to the city's wastewater treatment plant where he burrowed into the dirt. Leaving his face exposed gave the dog something to bite since Qualls, who has an extensively criminal record, did not surrender.
"Otherwise we wouldn't have necessarily been able to find him," said Lt. Smith. "Police canines, I think, have a 300 times better sense of smell than human's which is a whole different perspective."
That keen sense of smell is why police will often use canines to lead a narcotics search warrant "and they will usually find narcotics and stuff before we will."
Somewhat of a luxury for a small department, Ceres has four canine teams that allow a dog to be on an 11-hour day shift and an 11-hour night shift "so pretty much around the clock we have a canine working patrol," said Lt. Smith.
Turlock Police does not have a K-9 program. Often Ceres readily assists neighboring agencies when they need a canine officer. Likewise, if Ceres needs a canine but all are home or away, the Sheriff's Department provides a backup.
The dogs are great for public relations, especially during educational visits to Ceres schools.
"The kids really love it," said Smith.
Canine demonstrations have also been put on at events like National Night Out.
The addition of Diesel came at a good time since the department lost Zeus, Officer Joe Wren's canine, to an on-the-job injury. The dog is recovering from a leg break while attempting to catch a suspect during a Dec. 22 burglary getaway.
"We're hoping that he's going to be able to be used again, we have to get over some issues."
The department also has a canine in Dex, who is handled by Coey Henson.
Ceres Police Department disbanded its equestrian unit years ago, mostly due to Ceres being too small to support the services.
"It just didn't pencil out at the end of the day for a city of our size," said Lt. Smith.