K-9s Making Tracks

HPD Dogs Earn Accolades For Sniffing Out Suspects

Posted: March 13, 2014

Harrisonburg Police Department officer Chris Ray stands with his K-9 Spartan, a 5-year-old German shepherd, on Monday. The team received a “Case of the Year” award for tracking a suspect accused of robbing a convenience store. (Photos by Pete DeLea / DN-R)
Harrisonburg police officer Tim Wright stands with Rocko, his 10-year-old Belgian malinois, on Monday. Wright and Rocko are credited with assisting in the capture of a suspect in the robbery of the BB&T branch bank on South High Street in July.

HARRISONBURG — Just a few minutes after a gunman robbed the BB&T branch bank on South High Street in Harrisonburg on July 1, officer Tim Wright and his police dog, Rocko, were on the hunt for the suspect.

The 10-year-old Belgian malinois tracked the suspect to a nearby trailer park, where within 48 hours a SWAT team converged on a mobile home and arrested 17-year-old Rosel Guillen-Mendez.

Wright and Rocko are credited with assisting in Guillen-Mendez’s capture. Guillen-Mendez, however, escaped from the Commonwealth Center for Children & Adolescents in Staunton on Dec. 29, and is believed to have fled to Mexico.

Wright said having Rocko by his side is crucial to solving crimes.

“You have an immediate partner with you,” he said. “The things he does just amazes you.”

The pair were among two officer and dog teams at the Harrisonburg Police Department to receive “Case of the Year” awards Feb. 26 from the Virginia Police Canine Association in Culpeper.

The association trains police dogs and handlers. Dogs can be trained in drug detection, explosive and cadaver detections. They also can be trained to help patrol officers apprehend suspects and search for evidence.

HPD has seven police dogs, including two trained in bomb detection. Four are trained for dual purpose: drug detection and suspect apprehension.

The seventh dog is assigned to the RUSH Drug Task Force.

Lt. Rod Pollard, who oversees HPD’s K-9 Unit, said police dogs make a difference every day. Suspects who ordinarily take off when zeroed in on by officers, freeze when the police dog is let loose, Pollard said.

“A K-9 has a bigger bite than us,” he said.

Sheetz Robbery Suspect

Officer Chris Ray and his police dog, Spartan, also received a “Case of the Year” award for tracking a suspect accused of robbing a convenience store.

On Nov. 4, police arrested a 14-year-old Harrisonburg boy in connection with the late-night armed robbery of the Sheetz gas station at 798 E. Market St.

Police say the boy is accused of entering the store, displaying a handgun and demanding money and cigarettes. Witnesses told police the suspect then left the store and fled on foot east on Country Club Road.

Spartan later led Ray straight to the suspect.

Ray credits his 5-year-old German shepherd for the arrest.

“The case was solved within an hour from the dog tracking,” said Ray, who added it would have been more difficult to make an arrest had it not been for a police dog. “More than likely, it wouldn’t have been solved that night.”

Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or pdelea@dnronline.com 

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