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Taking a bite out of crime
Manteca Police K9 unit turning 50
A recent photo of Manteca Polices canine unit officers and their dogs. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Sgt. Chris Mraz’s partner has helped make 100 arrests.
And in only five cases did he have to use force.
Unlike other officers, Mraz’ partner is able to use a substantially less-than-lethal force — his teeth.
The partner is Havok, a sociable Rottweiler that is one of seven patrol dogs serving with the Manteca Police Department.
Most of the time Mraz said when suspects realize that he is about to send a dog into a structure where they are hiding or to stop them for fleeing they think twice and opt to cooperate.
“Most people when they see the dog will cooperate,” Mraz said.
Havok is part of a storied tradition. Manteca Police Department’s canine unit turns 50 next year. It is the longest continuous K9 unit in operation west of the Mississippi River. The only older K9 unit is with the Stockton Police Department that had several years where there unit was in hiatus due to budget cuts.
Police Chief Nick Obligacion is a big fan of the effectiveness of trained police dogs.
Not only was the fact Manteca Police had a highly acclaimed K9 unit that lured him to take a job here almost 30 years ago, but as police chief Obligacion understands the value the dogs bring to the force.
Obligacion notes they enhance the safety of both the officer and suspect. At the same time they improve public safety by reducing chases that puts others at risk. And they also save both taxpayers and suspects money. Taxpayers by reducing worker’s compensation claims and enhancing the effectiveness of existing police staffing and suspects by reducing their medical bills if an officer is forced to take additional measures to safely arrest them.
“Suspects are reasonable for the cost of their treatment,” Obligacion said.
Searches of buildings that could require two officers and take 20 to 30 minutes are done much quicker by an officer with a trained dog. The police chief noted since dogs search by smell and not sight, that they don’t miss a suspect.
In recent cases a dog search ensured officer safety when a suspect had barricaded himself into a small bedroom and covered himself with clothes. The dog finding the suspect meant two officer’s weren’t put at risk in a confined space where the suspect had the element of surprise in his favor.
Dogs have proven effective at finding suspects hiding in tight places such as attics.
Manteca is also a rarity for a department its size due to the ability to have a patrol dog on duty 24/7.
Manteca Police have moved away from overly aggressive dogs that once was the exclusive trademark of K9 units to ones that are more sociable in nature. Still, the chief notes people should always ask an officer if they can pet their dog before doing so. Also given that the patrol units are a dog’s working “home” it is important that that be respected. It is why K9 patrol units are clearly marked “stay away.”
“I feel completely comfortable with taking Havok into a group of kindergartners and not having to worry about him biting anyone.” Mraz said.
Dogs go through Police Officer Standards Training and are qualified for service by a non-department tester. They also go through weekly formal training in addition to the continuous training they receive on the job.
Dogs, however, don’t see it as training. Mraz said it is play time for them.
The dogs also live with the families of their officer partners further enhancing their sociability.
The department currently employs German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Belgian Malinois. There is an eighth dog trained to sniff out contraband.
The dogs also serve as Goodwill Ambassadors for the department especially at community events such as street fairs.
They also have a loyal following of supporters that have stepped up to help the K9 officers with expenses they typically incur out of pocket that aren’t picked up by the City of Manteca.
Mraz said officers are appreciative of efforts of groups such as the Del Webb at Woodbridge residents that have donated four bullet proof dog vests valued at $1,400 apiece.