Dog News

K-9 expansion culminates with international visit, academy graduation

Officer and dog play.
K-9 tugs on toy with his officer.

Story and photos by Ike Dodson
Office of Public and Employee Communications

With Germans (Shepherds) and Belgians (Malinois) already in attendance, it’s only fitting that a few Australians were on hand for the final academy of CDCR’s statewide K-9 program expansion.

Two officials from the Australian Federal Police observed CDCR’s training methods recently as seven more K-9 teams, featuring several rescue dogs, worked through the 280-hour academy at the Northern California Women’s Facility, an inactive prison in Stockton used for training.

A June 4 graduation of that cohort completes an expansion that tasked CDCR with providing two K-9 teams at each of the 35 adult institutions in California. The effort was initiated by an approved budget change proposal by The Drug Interdiction Program. The proposal came 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 within state institutions.

The CDCR team also welcomed strategic international partners during the final expansion academy. It was the 13th and final stop for the Australian team, which began their coast-to-coast exploration of emerging capabilities in April.

“We feel like we have established relationships both professionally and personally that will span a long time and hopefully make the world a bit of a smaller place as far as law enforcement and dog work,” said Mark Rice, team leader of training and development for the Australian Federal Police. “We heard some really good things about the program here in California.

“You have had some really significant seizures and use a lot of dogs in high-volume training. That’s why we were interested in seeing the program, because of its prestige.”

Rice said Australian Federal Police officials learned of CDCR’s State-wide K-9 Program at the U.S. Embassy in Canberra (the capital of Australia). He was impressed by CDCR’s innovative efforts to give rescue animals purpose in the program and noted the training that could benefit his own department.

Man in shirt and tie shakes hands with officers.
Bryan Donahoo speaks with the final K-9 expansion academy graduates.

“The cellphone stuff you guys are doing is interesting to us,” he added. “It’s something we are seeking to replicate in Australia for different investigating purposes.”

From January 2017 to December 2018, CDCR K-9 teams discovered 24,910 cellphones. In the same time frame, Dogs also sniffed out 14,335.9 grams of marijuana, 343.5 pounds of tobacco, 7,109.1 grams of methamphetamine and 4,025.9 grams of heroin.

K-9 teams are just part of an expansive contraband interdiction program that aims to eliminate contraband inside prison walls with the goal of safer prisons focused on rehabilitative programming and preparing incarcerated people for successful returns home.

As officers retire or promote, future academies will be held to keep the program staffed, but the recent academy was a culminating moment for CDCR and Division of Adult Institutions, also known as DAI, said Associate Warden Bryan Donahoo. Donahoo oversaw the expansion alongside DAI Associate Director Felix Vasquez and Statewide K-9 Coordinator Lt. Jeremy Packard.

“I’m very proud of all of you that completed the academy,” Donahoo said during the June 4 ceremony. “You were hand-selected by your warden to be here, and that says a lot about you, but you still had to go away from your families and commit to this 280-hour academy.”

The recent academy will send teams to Avenal State Prison, Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California City Correctional Facility, California State Prison, Los Angeles County in Lancaster, Sierra Conversation Center in Jamestown and San Quentin State Prison. The program, limited to 49 K-9s before the expansion, now supports over 70 teams.

“We want to congratulate you on a milestone in the department,” Donahoo added. “Whether you get your first find the first five minutes you get to the institution or if it takes two weeks ― keep persevering. We believe in you.”

Man in shirt and tie stands beside officers holding certificates.
Graduates of the final K-9 expansion academy along with Bryan Donahoo, left.