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Sergeant Pyle lives on in CDCR K‑9 program

Drako and Sergeant Brian Pyle.
Sergeant Brian Pyle and Drako demonstrate contraband-sniffing skills during Take Your Kids to Work Day at CSP-Solano in 2015. Pyle passed away in 2017 and Drako passed away in 2021.

Every officer who enters the kennels at California State Prison, Solano (SOL) ― two-legged and four-legged alike ― passes underneath a hand-painted sign that reads “Do it for Pyle.”

It’s become the mantra of CDCR’s K-9 program, which expands to every adult institution in California next year thanks to an approved budget change proposal by the Drug Interdiction Program.

The K-9 program, part of CDCR’s dogged efforts to keep narcotics and contraband out of state institutions, was pioneered by the likes of Sergeant Brian Pyle, who died of pancreatic cancer Sept. 29, 2017.

Pyle and his fabled K-9 partner Drako, a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois, were a remarkably proficient search team who earned fame for hordes of successful searches since they paired up in 2009.

In their first five years, the two discovered over 1,000 cell phones, 543 pounds of tobacco, 21 pounds of marijuana, 1.25 pounds of methamphetamine and 5.5 ounces of heroin.

On the third year of their partnership, the duo assisted the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office in executing a search warrant, and Drako sniffed out a hidden cache behind a fake wall, containing 20 pounds of marijuana, 12 grams of methamphetamine and a stash of rifles and pistols.

“Their legendary contraband finds made our prisons safer and solidified the important role of the K-9 teams in our organization,” CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan said. “Brian and his partner Drako performed with amazing distinction that only could be achieved when a skilled handler and dog have a powerful bond.

“I had the good fortune to run into Brian at San Quentin a few months back. I immediately respected his quiet demeanor and conviction, and he had that warm smile and strong handshake which I remembered from the previous times our paths crossed.”

Partially because of the achievements of Pyle and Drako, the K-9 program grew from just a few officers in 2009 to 49 teams earlier this year. By the end of the fiscal year, however, CDCR will staff two teams at all 35 adult institutions. California’s 75 teams will make the program one of the largest correctional K-9 drug interdiction efforts worldwide. The budget change was proposed after an independent report by the University of California, Berkeley, found that the K-9 program was one of the most effective tools for discovering both narcotics and contraband.

That path was forged by Pyle, who was honored by Solano County Rotary in 2014 for his dedication in helping shape the state’s K-9 program.

Pyle started his career as a Correctional Officer at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, transferred as a Correctional Case Records Analyst at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla in 2000 and promoted to Correctional Case Record Supervisor at Wasco State Prison the same year. He joined the K-9 program in its infancy nine years later and became a Canine Sergeant at Folsom State Prison, before transferring to California Medical Facility (CMF) in 2015.

He became a tremendous asset for CMF Investigative Services Unit Lt. Felix Hopper.

“I quickly came to learn how dedicated and focused he was in doing his job as the K-9 Sergeant,” Hopper said. “To add to this was his passion for his partner Drako. The two were a unit in itself but never self-serving.

“Sgt. Pyle strove to be a leader and a teacher to all. He was on go at all times.”

Hopper recalled one of the first times he watched Pyle and Drako in action on a big find at a minimum-support facility.

“I watched in amazement as Pyle and Drako moved throughout the site,” Hopper said. “Drako alerted high and low areas on multiple locations that resulted in a large discovery of contraband. “

Drako was rewarded with some quality time with his favorite “tug” or toy, but Pyle treated the find ― as he did all of his prolific work ― like another day on the job.

“Pyle was never a person who was seeking to steal the show, but his personality just made you want to get to know more about him,” Hopper explained. “Pyle had two sayings that will always stick with me ― ‘Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good,’ and ‘See something, say something.’

“Pyle was an easy-going guy, but there is no doubt that he was better at what he did than he was lucky.”

After speaking with Pyle’s father, Hopper discovered that the champion of CDCR’s K-9 program was a 1986 high school graduate who enlisted in the Navy and served his country for five years. Pyle was part of the K-9 bomb detection unit in Desert Storm, served on the USS Abraham Lincoln (a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier) and finished his naval career stationed at the Naval Air Station in Lemoore.

“There are not enough words to express the impact Pyle had at CMF as well as to the department and to the community,” Hopper said. “To my friend Sgt. Brian Pyle thank you for standing tall, a job well done, you will be missed. May you rest in peace my brother.”

His impact resonates across the department.

“Brian was the type of person who everybody liked from the moment they met him,” CMF Warden Robert W. Fox said. “He approached every task with a positive attitude and an overwhelming enthusiasm.

“Brian’s selfless dedication to the institution and its mission motivated the staff around him to do all they can do and be all they can be. Our thoughts and prayers are with Brian’s family and his extended CDCR family.”

Secretary Kernan spoke of Pyle’s impact on the department during funeral services in Vacaville Oct. 10.

“Brian’s dream job was to be a K-9 officer,” Kernan said. “Not only did he love his job, but he did it well. Brian and his partner Drako can be credited for thousands of contraband finds that made our prisons safer.

“Brian will be sorely missed by the many who had the honor of knowing this great man.”

Pyle’s legacy will live on in CDCR’s expanding drug interdiction efforts. Eight new teams will emerge from the latest K-9 Academy Dec. 8 in Stockton and the newly renovated kennels in Vacaville serve as a staging area for new dogs in preparation of two more academies.

Those kennels also prompt officers to be inspired by one of the program’s pioneers. They need only crane their necks to find four words of encouragement.

“Do it for Pyle.”

Story by Ike Dodson, Office of Public and Employee Communications

Learn more about CDCR’s K-9 programs.

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