UW "Huskies" Keep Us Safe--By a Nose
UWPD Officers Christopher Ellrodt & Sam and Warren Bresko & Murphy
Photo by Brigit Stadler
“When you have a dog with you,
there is a bridge. . . a connection.”
Officer Warren Bresko beams as he chats about his partner, K9 Officer Murphy. “Murph is a great dog, he can find just about anything. Isn’t that right Murph?” Murphy, sporting his police collar, perks up as though Officer Bresko was just about to throw him a ball.
As we walked to the K9-ready patrol car parked next to Thomson Hall on the University of Washington—Seattle Campus, several students stopped by and asked to pet Murphy. “Sure, that’s why he is here today,” Officer Bresko states with a grin. “Did you know that when you pet a dog your stress levels go down, and you can do better on your finals?” He then turns to me, “I think everyone should pet a dog.”
Murphy, Photo by Brigit Stadler
“I think everyone should pet a dog.”
After a series of events in the late 1990s and 2000s including the Unibomber (1995), the UW firebombing (May 2001), and September 11, 2001, university campus police departments across the United States began partnering up with K9 explosive detection dogs. The University of Washington Police Department (UWPD) works tirelessly to keep the 50,000 plus students and 20,000 plus faculty and staff safe, and the K9 unit is an essential part of that endeavor.
Murphy, Photo by Brigit Stadler
In 2006, UWPD Officer Kenny Johns secured funding for the department’s first K9, a Chocolate Lab by the name of Kali. Kali proudly served on the force until she retired at the age of ten. She is now 13 years old. Kali moved on to another officer’s home where she is living out her retirement chasing squirrels and enjoying being the center of attention.
Kali, Photo reprinted with permission
from Officer Kenneth Johns
These dogs will be dogs!
Officer Johns’ second K9, Harley, is a 5-year-old German Short-Haired Pointer who was rescued from PAWS in Everett. On her first day on the job during rounds at a UW football game, Officer Johns and Harley went to say hello to a family. Officer Johns turned away for a moment and Harley was busy eating the daughter’s pizza! When relaying this story, Officer Johns chuckled. Even though highly trained and sensitive, "these dogs will be dogs!”
"Go DAWGS!" Photo reprinted with permission from Officer Kenneth Johns
Four years ago, in 2014, UW Chief of Police John Vinson decided that more trained K9 officers were necessary because one dog was not enough to properly monitor all of the campus buildings and campus-related events. Today the UWPD K9 unit is composed of three teams: Officers Bresko and Murphy, Ellrodt and Sam, and Johns and Harley. The department is considering adding another pair so that there is a dog present on campus for each shift.
Dogs with high drive, lots of energy, and intelligence are chosen to be K9 trainees. Every dog is different, but on average it takes a dog three months to graduate from the program. These pups work hard to become accomplished officers who keep us safe by detecting not only bombs but also the many ingredients that compose explosives. K9 explosive detection officers are trained on 14 base odors, they can sniff out gun powder, shell casings, ammunition, and other evidence.
K9 Sam, Photo by Brigit Stadler
Their human handlers require 440 hours of training, which is administered through the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. Training is done at Boeing Field with the Boeing Company’s K9 Explosive Detection Unit or though the Washington State Patrol Patrol Academy in Shelton. Once every two years, K9s and handlers must update their credentials and complete a test.
Tests are provided by the Washington State Police Canine Association (WSPCA). Officers are members of the WSPCA and routinely meet up to network outside of testing. Tests include locating odors at different concentrations in different locations.
For example two scents may be placed in an exterior location, or there may be 8–10 rooms inside a building where 3 odors are present. Examiners may also have lined up a series of packages, and the dog is responsible for locating the scent and finding the item that is “hot.” The dogs are tested on their ability to find specific odors in cars, vans, trucks, boats, and in large vehicles like airplanes and buses.
Officer Bresko and K9 Murphy
Photo by Brigit Stadler
“Its 99% dog and 1% handler.
It’s my job to read the dog.”
Officer Elldrot and K9 Sam, Photo by Brigit Stadler
Handlers are responsible for the continual care and training of their K9 partners (4 hours each week on average). Dogs spend all day with their handlers and go home and become part of their families. Food and veterinary costs are covered by the UWPD. K9 officers ride in style in specially outfitted, unmarked patrol cars, complete with fans, AC, blankets, toys, food, and water. When the dogs need a bath or a break from work there is a kennel located inside the department building, which also houses a fully-equipped, stainless-steel washing station.
Dogs and handlers need to read each other and work together at all times. It is necessary to be very precise because of the dangerousness of the materials the dogs are tracking. As Officer Bresko explains, “its 99% dog and 1% handler. It’s my job to read the dog.” K9 handlers are not bomb experts. When a dog “alerts” on an item or area professionals are brought in to assess the situation.
“There is nothing better than a dog’s nose.”
There was one incident that involved a car parked at one the UW football games. Both dogs alerted on the same vehicle. Professionals were brought in, and a tuba case was located inside. Inside the case was a bottle of lubricant for the instrument. Being a metal instrument, the lubricant was made of materials the dogs had been trained on (guns for example are conditioned with a similar solution). Luckily it was a false alarm, but it wasn’t a false positive. The dogs had found what they had been trained to find, and the tuba incident turned out to be a fantastic test of their incredible abilities. “There is nothing better than a dog’s nose.”
Let's Play! K9 Murphy, Photo by Brigit Stadler
UW K9 teams monitor all of the UW football games and are often brought in to help out other agencies at large events when needed (Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders, etc.). They also monitor the many UW laboratories and science, engineering, and technology departments. K9 officers and their handlers know each other and often train together, and if additional dogs are needed, for example when a famous dignitary visits the Northwest and it is necessary to ensure that the hotels and other areas are clear of explosives, all of the various agencies (City of Seattle, King County, State Patrol, US Coast Guard, TSA, Boeing, and the Port of Seattle to name a few) will work together to ensure that our community is safe.
K9 Officer Murphy is a 5-year-old English Labrador Retriever. His handler is Officer Warren Bresko. When he’s not on duty, Murphy enjoys racing around the Bresko household.
K9 Officer Sam is a Golden Retriever and has been on the force for just over a year. He is 2 years old and loves his job. Just whisper the word “ball” and he is all ears.
Seattle Pup Spotlight! Series: Working Dogs of Washington
The UWPD K9s are just a few of the many community canines in the Northwest! You can find links to other working dogs by visiting our "Community Canines" page.
Seattle Pup Magazine would like to thank Officers Bresko, Murphy, Ellrodt, Sam, Johns, and Harley for their willingness to be interviewed . We would also like to thank the UWPD for providing additional photos. Thank you all for your continued work on behalf of the Seattle area community!
Photos by Brigit Stadler and Life As a Voyager
Photos of Officer Johns have been reprinted with permission.