Partners in crime
Chico PD handler and K-9, Pax, are companions on the job and offimage in production
When Chico Police Officer Brandon Joseph first met Pax last October, he immediately recognized the qualities he’d long wanted in a partner.
“He’s absolutely fearless,” Joseph said of Pax, a Belgian Malinois, “and he was eager to train and work hard.”
“He’s got the personality of a giant kid,” Joseph continued. “He just loves to get out and train and work, and you can tell it makes him happy to make me happy. When we do anything, he comes running back looking at me like, ‘Did you see that, Dad? That was really cool what I did, huh?’ That’s his attitude, which is ideal for a dog doing this kind of work.”
For Joseph, being paired with Pax marked the culmination of his longtime goal to work with a canine. “I grew up around dogs and have always been a dog person,” he said. “My grandparents did obedience training for competitions, and I raised guide dogs when I was younger, so I’ve always been around working dogs.”
To fulfill that dream, Joseph said he “put in a lot of time wearing the bite suit” and helping other officers train with their dogs during his four years with the Oroville Police Department and since joining the Chico force 2 1/2 years ago. Last year, CPD Chief Mike O’Brien decided to invest in another dog for the department, and tapped Joseph to become a K-9 handler.
That decision was made possible through a gift bequeathed by the late Virginia Jordan, a longtime Chico resident. When Jordan died at the age of 102 in May 2013, she left half of her estate—about $45,000—to the department “for the exclusive purpose of purchasing, training and caring for police dogs.” Jordan’s estate was adjudicated and the donation approved by Chico City Council early last year. The department acquired another dog in March—a Dutch shepherd named Grobi who works with Officer Derek Ament.
Joseph said Officer Rich Hartman, a veteran CPD K-9 handler—who is partnered with 9-year-old Belgian Malinois Luna—helped him pick Pax, but the decision ultimately came down to his own instincts.
“The handler gets all the say in which dog they want,” Joseph said. “He also lives with me. He’s around my family—I have a wife and toddler—so it has to be a good match. It definitely is; he’s a part of our family.”
Pax was born in Amsterdam and raised at kennels in Florida and Reno before the CPD bought him.
“They’re put in different settings and exposed to a lot of situations when they’re young to make sure they have the right temperament,” Joseph said. “They start biting on a cloth tug toy, and the bite suits they transition to later on are made of the same material.”
After Joseph picked Pax, the pair spent two weeks at home getting to know each other before starting a five-week, 200-hour handler’s course. In addition to basic skills, this training consisted of a lot more biting and teaching the dogs to find people in hiding. They also use “behavioral shaping devices” or BSD boxes, to teach the dogs how to detect narcotics (“When they smell those drugs in the box and sit down in front of them, a ball pops out for them to play with,” Joseph said).
Since starting full-time duty last November, Pax has yet to score any “street bites,” meaning he hasn’t nabbed a hiding or fleeing criminal, but the duo have still seen some action.
“We’re always in the middle of everything,” Joseph said. “Anything major—a robbery or if someone has a gun—chances are a dog is going to be there. Pax has done a lot of high-risk vehicle stops, when we send the dogs into a car when someone is reported to be armed or has committed a violent felony.
“A lot of times just showing up with a dog is enough,” Joseph said. “People know they can’t hide from a dog, that bites are no fun, and they generally don’t want any part of that. They hear the dog barking and come out willingly.”