Police dogs are fearless animals, and so are their handlers – fearless, that is. So are patrol officers, investigators, motorcycle cops, bike officers, SWAT team members, hostage negotiators, corrections officers, and everyone else who wears a badge and swears to uphold the law and protect people and their property.

Everybody who raises their right hand to take that oath knows there’s a certain amount of danger involved with the job. They know there’s a chance that they just may get a little boo-boo every now and then – a scraped knee, or even a loose tooth or two. I, like many officers, have been cut, punched, and slapped silly. In fact, I still have a few boxes of band-aides that look like crime scene tape. It’s just a part of the job.

Officers are going to get injured. If they don’t, then they’re not pulling their weight on the street. But the point is, every cop knows the risks, and should not expect pristine, accident-free working conditions. A cop’s job is simply not the same as that of a concert pianist, or the guy who tests feather pillows for a living.

You know, the moment when your new boss hands you a gun, a handful of bullets, and a bullet-proof vest, is the moment, if there’s a doubt, when the average person should ask the new supervisor if there’s any danger involved in his newly chosen career. I do believe most people would pick up on those subtle clues without having to ask. Still, someone for the “Here’s your sign” club always seems to slip through the cracks.

“…I learned to drive an 18 wheeler in my days of adventure. Wouldn’t ya know I misjudged the height of a bridge. The truck got stuck and I couldn’t get it out no matter how I tried. I radioed in for help and eventually a local cop shows up to take the report. He went through his basic questioning. No problem. I thought for sure he was clear of needing a sign… until he says “So..is your truck stuck?” I couldn’t help myself! I looked at him, looked back at the rig, then back to him and said, “No I’m delivering a bridge …Here’s your sign!”

I’ve said all this to tell you a little story about Officer George Gabaldon, an Albuquerque, New Mexico police officer. In 2006, Officer Gabaldon was working patrol, a job he was hired to do (he’d already received his gun, bullets, and vest), when he and another officer stopped a truck that was traveling in the wrong lane of travel. In fact, the truck almost hit Officer Gabaldon’s patrol vehicle head on. See, there’s one of the dangers of the job right there. Hey, Gabaldon, this was a clue. Danger was approaching!

As it turns out, the truck was stolen. Danger clue number two. Bad guys who drive stolen cars are normally pretty desperate to get away, therefore they do crazy things like riding on flat tires, or even riding on just the metal rims when they run out of rubber (For some reason, these dummies always seem to have flat tires). Well, lo and behold, that’s exactly what Gabaldon and his partners were faced with on that particular November night – dangerous crooks riding on metal rims. Any cop’ll tell you that’s a bad combination.

Officer Gabaldon correctly called for backup. After all, a dead hero is exactly that…dead. Cops come out of the woodwork like frenzied roaches when one of the fellow Boys in Blue calls for assistance, and things were no different in this case. Even one of the city’s canine units rolled up to lend a hand and four paws. Those desperadoes weren’t getting away from Gabaldon and crew. No, sir! Besides, there’s safety in numbers. That’s why you see forty or fifty dozen police cars on the side of the road parked behind a VW Beetle while displaying enough spinning, flashing, and blinking candlepower to serve as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon light show. No one wants to get hurt. Everyone wants to go home safe and sound at the end of the shift.

Okay, so here’s how we stand – stolen car, desperate criminals, Gabaldon and crew are ordering the men out of the car at gunpoint. Nothing out of the ordinary. A typical felony traffic stop. Cops make stops like this one all the time, nearly every single night of their lives.

Well, here’s where things started to go a little south for Officer Gabaldon. He was approaching the passenger’s side of the car when the sound of a police canine barking and running approached from the rear. That’s a good thing, right? I mean, a police dog can single-pawedly take down a man and hold him until its handler arrives to cuff and stuff the crook (We haven’t quite figured out how to train canines to handcuff bad guys. Something about a lack of fingers for cuffing, and no pockets to hold the keys). The cavalry was on the way, right?

Unfortunately, the highly-trained dog had set it’s sights on Gabaldon, not the car thief. So the animal did what he knew best. It bit Officer Gabaldon on the leg, and then refused to let go, which is what it was trained to do – hang on until given the command to release. It was a mess to say the least. Gabaldon sat bleeding on the pavement until he could be treated by medical personnel.

Granted, being bitten by a dog is a very unpleasant ordeal, especially when that animal is a police dog that will not let go, no matter what. And the more you struggle, the harder it bites. The animals know they’re supposed to keep the bad guys in that spot until their boss shows up to tell them how truly wonderful they are. After all, that’s what the dogs live for, to please their handlers. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, Gabaldon decides to sue (the suit is nearing its end this year). After all, he claims the city wouldn’t even pay to have his torn pants repaired. He says the pain he suffered as a result of the dog bite was unbearable, and I’ll have to agree with him on the pain part of his complaint. I know when I went through the state police academy with my dog I was bitten several times by several dogs during the 2,141,920 week training class (I know, but it seemed as if it lasted that long!).

Now, here’s where stupid just gets stupid…

I’m not sure how much monetary compensation Officer Gabaldon is seeking, but I do know that he’s asking the courts to change the way police canines are trained. He wants them to stop biting. Instead, he’s asking that the animals be completely muzzled and be trained to locate dangerous murders and rapists and then merely stand there barking at them – no holding with their teeth. He says law enforcement absolutely does not need biting dogs – they’re just too dangerous to have around. No place for them in the business. The fact that he got bitten should come as no surprise, Gabaldon said, since the intent is for the dog to bite after being unleashed, without a muzzle. Duh.

Okay, to clear up a point for you writers. Police canines (the ones trained to bite, not explosive or cadaver dogs) are trained to focus on a specific target that’s pointed out to them by their handlers (there’s a little secret code that’s shared between the dog and handler). If you attended the Writers’ Police Academy last year, you saw an excellent demonstration of this by one of Hamilton PD’s canines (below).

That dog locked on his target and never once once took its eyes off the man (Officer Dave Crawford who kindly volunteered to wear the bite sleeve). I have to say, in the case of Gabaldon’s bite, I believe there may have been a bit of handler error. BUT, I cannot say this for sure because I was not there. But I can say this for sure, a dog that’s only allowed to bark at a gun-wielding murderer will be about as effective as sending in the…

Attack Bunny!

I’m just saying…

*     *     *

Writers Police Academy

* FYI – If you have chance , please stop by Murderati. Cornelia Read invited me over there to grill me about the Writers’ Police Academy.

The Don Knotts Silver Bullet Novel Writing Contest is now open!

The Don Knotts Silver Bullet Contest Award winner will receive The Silver Bullet Award, free Writers’ Police Academy registration ($235 value), and have the opportunity to submit their entire manuscript to one of the judges (to be determined later based upon the genre and work itself). Additional prizes forthcoming. Here’s your chance to get your work in front of top agents and publishers! The contest is open to the general public and writers from all genres, not just academy registrants and mystery writers!

Please visit the Writers’ Police Academy website for details. www.writerspoliceacademy.com

Contest judges are:

Annette Rogers, Acquisitions Editor of the Poisoned Pen Press, searches for new, unpublished mystery writers. Recent successes include Carolyn Wall SWEEPING UP GLASS, Jeffrey Siger MURDER ON MYKONOS, and Edward Ifkovic LONE STAR. In addition she evaluates and edits manuscripts, corresponds with writers and agents, and fends off Facebook friend requests. Rogers published a bestselling travel book on EGYPT-translated into six languages, wrote for O, The Oprah Magazine, and covered court hearings on the Mormon Bomber case for Time/Life. She has a Masters Degree in History and English. www.poisonedpenpress.com

Benjamin LeRoy is a founder of Tyrus Books-a publisher specializing in crime and dark literary fiction. Before starting Tyrus in July of 2009, he founded and ran Bleak House Books. He lives in Madison, WI where he works on his own writing and is endlessly fascinated with the history of baseball. www.tyrusbooks.com

Elizabeth Pomada worked at David McKay, Holt Rinehart & Winston, and the Dial Press in New York City before moving to San Francisco in 1970 with her partner and husband, Michael Larsen. Together, they started Michael Larsen – Elizabeth Pomada Literary Agents in 1972. Since then, they have sold books from hundreds of authors to more than 100 publishers. Elizabeth is a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives, The Author’s Guild, ASJA, WNBA and co-founder with Michael of the San Francisco Writers Conference and the Writing for Change conference. www.larsen-pomada.com

Kimberley Cameron began her literary career as an agent trainee at the Marjel de Lauer Agency in association with Jay Garon in New York. She worked for several years at MGM developing books for motion pictures. She was the co-founder of Knightsbridge Publishing Company with offices in New York and Los Angeles. In 1993 she became partners with Dorris Halsey of The Reece Halsey Agency, founded in 1957. Among its clients have been Aldous Huxley, William Faulkner, Upton Sinclair, and Henry Miller. She opened Reece Halsey North in 1995 and Reece Halsey Paris in 2006. Her associate Elizabeth Evans opened Reece Halsey New York in 2008, and in 2009 the agency became Kimberley Cameron & Associates. www.kimberleycameron.com

  1. queenofmean
    queenofmean says:

    I agree, if you muzzle the police dog, what’s the point of even having the dog? That’s like have the police officers unarmed & in handcuffs.

  2. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Dave – We had that happen once and couldn’t figure out why we could never find the guy. Then it dawned on us really intelligent investigators…the guy was listening to us on the in-car police radio. He knew where we were and what we were doing at all times. We finally switched to a private channel and soon found the car abandoned in a housing project. we never did catch the guy.

    And…I once answered a loud music complaint way out in the county (I was still with the sheriff’s office at the time). Well, things escalated rather quickly, and since it was just me and my captain, a man the size of a large SubZero freezer, against a mob of 40 or 50 drunk party-goers, we literally had to fight our way, back to back, to my patrol car. At the last minute we grabbed the biggest loudmouth from the crowd (we couldn’t come away empty-handed), but when I attempted to get him inside my car, I found a very intoxicated man sitting behind the wheel, drinking a beer and listening to my FM radio. Arrest number two. Ah, the good old days. Where did they go…

  3. Dave Swords
    Dave Swords says:

    Elena, your example reminds me of a couple of cases where an officer jumps out of a car to chase a suspect on foot, leaving his keys in the cruiser. The suspect doubles back and, you guessed it, jumps into the cruiser to take off.

    That is what we called a “Dear Chief.”

  4. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Joyce – Ha!

    Dave – Sounds like a case of payback to me, too.

    ramona – I agree. What’s the point. Actually, I think it’s a lawyers pitiful attempt at strengthening a very weak case. Me thinks there’s a better place for the dog’s teeth.

    Elena – Cops, they do the darnedest things.

  5. Elena
    Elena says:

    We had a wonderful ‘Here’s your sign’ down here in Georgia when a rookie decided to take charge of the two guys he had stopped driving a stolen Trans-Am. Yes he did call for backup, but his syrup was flowing fast. Brandishing his gun he herded the two guys into the car jumped behind the wheel and took off. Only to be chased by the entire back-up posse.

    Yup, he had herded them into the stolen Trans-Am! Is there such a charge as “re-stealing”?

  6. ramona
    ramona says:

    If the dog is muzzled, how’s it supposed to bark for help? (Some muzzles do allow barking, but usually cuts the volume.) So, not only can the dog not protect itself because it can’t bite, it can’t bark for help or to be located if it finds bad guys/bad stuff. If you’re hobbling the animal from effectively doing its job, what’s the point?

  7. Dave Swords
    Dave Swords says:

    Handler mishandling? Sounds like it.

    What I’d like to know is, did the handler and Off. Gabaldon have any issues between them?


    I’m just saying …