A few weeks ago, Sedalia Police Department Officer Travis Lorenz was named the 2015 Officer of the Year during the annual awards ceremony, but he doesn’t do it alone. In addition to his fellow two-legged officers, he has a constant companion on every call — K-9 Charlie.
SPD obtained two dogs in 2013 and Lorenz and Officer Bill Connor, whose dog is Gallo, have been in the K-9 Unit since that time.
“I’ve always loved dogs, I’ve always had dogs in my life. I’ve always had a passion for dogs. To be able to do a job you love to do with an animal you love to be with, you can’t ask for anything better than that,” Lorenz said Wednesday during some down time while training with Connor and the dogs in the Mathewson Exhibition Center on the Missouri State Fairgrounds.
“With Sedalia being a small department you think it’s probably not going to happen. There’s only two spots and usually when those spots are filled they’re filled for awhile. We interviewed for them and when (Chief John DeGonia) called and said I had the position, it was like the best day.”
Lorenz has been in law enforcement for 18 years, spending nine years at the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office and the last nine with SPD.
“He did a great interview (for K-9 Unit), but even before that he was very mature and he knows the law very well,” DeGonia told the Democrat after the award ceremony March 29. “He helps others out on the shift, they come to him if there’s a problem. He might not have a supervisor role, but he certainly has the knowledge, and he does help out and answers questions. He’s always there when we need him.”
Lorenz and Connor spend between eight and 15 hours each week training the dogs. Most Wednesdays the unit travels to Columbia to train with 10 other dogs and their officers from the area. Each September they attend a weeklong training to certify the dogs.
A K-9 Unit officer’s job doesn’t end when he goes home. He is still responsible for caring for the dog, even off duty. Lorenz said he also spends a lot of free time training Charlie to alert to narcotic odors as well as obedience training.
“You have a lot more responsibilities that other officers or people don’t see. You’re constantly taking care of the dogs, 24 hours a day. You can’t just go home and hang the uniform up and be done,” Lorenz said. “… We got called up to the interstate and just the amount of traffic that’s going by, you’ve got to keep tight control of the dog. You really have to watch your surroundings not just for yourself, but you’re also making sure the dog’s OK.”
Charlie rides with Lorenz on every call during his shift. The K-9 Unit is called in to help with search warrants for SPD as well as the sheriff’s office, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and other area agencies. The dogs are trained to alert to methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and marijuana. Lorenz said he and Charlie recently did a search for the Benton County Sheriff’s Department at Fulton High School.
“I think having the dogs, we’ve caught a lot of folks because of the dogs where in the past we wouldn’t have been able to because of the way we can use the dogs,” Lorenz said. “They’ve found a lot of hidden stashes with the dogs that may have not been found in a regular search by an officer. I’ve found magnetic compartments in vehicles that were inside doors that probably wouldn’t have been found. When you have a dog alert, you know there’s an odor there, so it’s up to us to find it. I typically keep looking until I find it, which is 90 percent of the time.”
Lorenz continued, saying the dogs will still alert to residual odor, such as if someone had marijuana in a purse and then took it out.
“They’ll bracket back and forth until they can source (the odor),” Lorenz said. “They’re usually within about 18 inches of where narcotics are.”
Connor said Charlie and Gallo are both a Malinois, a variety of the Belgian Shepherd, a type of dog that tends to be highly active and intense. Even so, the two SPD dogs have their own distinct personalities. As Lorenz put it, Charlie is either “100 mph or asleep,” while Gallo is more calm and takes his time.
Lorenz said the longer they work with the dogs, the easier it is for him and Connor to pick up on an alert. They look for a head snap and their breathing changes, along with the position of their ears. The dogs change their focus to a specific area until they alert.
Once they alert, they stay in that position until their officer gives them a command or gives them a reward. Gallo gets a tennis ball while Charlie gets a piece of fire hose to play with.
“Charlie would rip a tennis ball to shreds,” Lorenz said. “I was using rubber hose, but he’d chew that up too and I had to keep buying more, so I got fire hose. I’ve had these pieces for about three months now.”
When Charlie is off duty, he lives with Lorenz where he is “treated like a working dog, but he’s still spoiled.” Charlie isn’t allowed to have human food, as that could throw off his focus in a search warrant, but he does get dog treats. However, Lorenz said his favorite treat is ice cubes.
The Officer of the Year clearly enjoys his time with Charlie, as evidenced by their interactions Wednesday, but he also enjoys his overall role as an officer.
“You have that gratitude whenever you help somebody,” Lorenz said. “You catch a burglar and it’s the gratitude of helping victims when they’re being taken advantage of. Just being able to stop somebody from doing a crime gives you that overwhelming feeling of satisfaction, makes you feel like you have a purpose.
“I was a detective for 18 months and I got to finish through on some stuff. During that time we arrested some folks in some homicides, so being able to put a closure to that for the families and victims, that’s what keeps you going, what makes you feel like you have a purpose.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.