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Citrus Heights police host K-9 training at Sunrise Mall

A police officer walks a police K-9 in training at the former Sears building at Sunrise Mall. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
A heavy law enforcement presence could be seen at Sunrise Mall on Wednesday, as the Citrus Heights Police Department held a multi-agency K-9 training at the former Sears building.

The Feb. 15 training included agencies from Grass Valley, Daly City, Elk Grove, Fairfield, and Amador County. Citrus Heights Police Sgt. Shaun Gualco told The Sentinel in an email Thursday that the training ensures both dogs and handlers have the necessary skills in a variety of situations.

“The more diverse our training locations are the better prepared and more confident our teams become in their K-9’s skillset,” Gualco said. “Yesterday’s training occurred at the empty Sears building to provide them with another location to continue to build on their skills and abilities to ensure the best possible outcome in the field.”

The unique environment of the vacant Sears building provideds training exercises that are essential for police, said Gregg Tawney of D-Tac K9 Detection and Tactics. Tawney started D-Tac after more than 30 years as a K-9 handler for several police departments, most recently for Elk Grove Police Department.

The business trains for more than 20 agencies, Tawney said, with Citrus Heights police training two days each month. He recommends dogs receive about 16 hours of training in a 30 day period.

“We want to keep the dogs in good shape and make sure that their obedience is good and they’re doing all the things they’re supposed to do,” Tawney said. “[I]t goes for the handlers as well — make sure that they stay sharp, how to work the dogs.”

The training comes just days after State Assemblymembers Corey Jackson (D-Perris) and Ash Kalra (D-SanJose) introduced Assembly Bill 742 to end the use of police K9s for arrest and crowd control.

Tawney called the bill a “terrible proposition for law enforcement and the public.” He said police K-9s are a less-than-lethal option for apprehending a suspect, that often spares the suspect’s life in situations where an officer might otherwise use deadly force.

He said there is a series of conditions that must be met before law enforcement deploys a K-9 unit, in addition to local policies and practices that include announcing the use of a K-9.

“We use helicopters, we use P.A. systems, we give verbal announcements over and over again throughout the search,” Tawney said. “There’s a lot of checkboxes and things that we have to do before we even consider using the dog. And I don’t know if the public realizes how much we go through.”

Dogs are only used in situations where a serious crime was committed, and a potentially armed suspect is actively resisting arrest by running from the scene, Tawney said.

AB 742 aims to end what Jackson says is a harmful practice with a history of violence and racial bias, according to a Feb. 13 press release published by Jackson’s office.

“The use of police canines has inflicted brutal violence and lifelong trauma on Black Americans and communities of color,” Jackson said in the release. “This bill marks a turning point in the fight to end this cruel and inhumane practice and build trust between the police and the communities they serve.”

The bill would still allow the use of police K-9s for search and rescue, illegal drug detection, and explosives detection, the release said.

Police Lt. Nicki Garing said Thursday that the Citrus Heights Police Department has no comment on AB 742 “at this time.”

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