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Riverside County sheriff’s deputies charged with the safety of thousands of county residents will soon get a dose of safety themselves.
A $1 million overhaul of department squad cars, spread over the past four years, will upgrade the modems in squad cars countywide.
Once installed, dispatchers will be able to track the department’s more than 850 squad cars — and no longer have to rely on deputies to say where they are as they patrol.
The long-discussed upgrade could be a life-saving move, deputies say, allowing backup units to more easily reach colleagues in danger.
The GPS-like tracking system is one in a line of technology upgrades the sheriff’s department has launched.
Project leaders say the changes will not only protect design safety, but also improve department efficiency.
The second major upgrade under way, a project that is related to the system upgrade, will do away with thousands of paper reports.
Sure, there’s bragging rights involved for teams that win the police dog competition held in Temecula every year, officers involved in the event said Saturday.
But more importantly, it’s a chance to correct misconceptions people may have about police dogs and to showcase the bond between the furry creatures and their human partners.
“We work with these dogs, we live with these dogs —- they are our best friends,” said Sgt. Coby Webb, K-9 supervisor for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, which holds the competition, now in its 14th year. “It’s so fun to show the public the bond between the handler and the dog, so they can see the partnership.”
The two-day competition began Friday and culminated Saturday at Harveston Community Park in Temecula. It attracted K-9 units from more than 30 law enforcement agencies across the region.
The teams are put to the test —- given building, luggage, vehicle and narcotics searches. Friday’s trials, which included narcotics searches, were closed to the public.
On Saturday, the teams competed in a variety of drills testing obedience and agility as a crowd of about 250 people watched from the sidelines.
“This is like, the best time of my life,” said 25-year-old Pacific Beach resident Michael Dolan, who has autism and uses a retired police dog as a companion animal. “I love shepherd dogs, and how beautiful, loyal and noble they are.”
The dogs competing in the trials can sense this is no ordinary day, Webb said.
“They are just like kids,” she said of the dogs. “Sometimes, it’s like, ‘Oh, I forgot my routine.’ And other times it’s like, ‘I got this down.’”
Motioning toward a dog and its partner strutting their stuff on the field, Webb pointed out how the officer’s head was held high, his back was straight, and his arms were swinging.
“The handlers are having just as much fun as the dogs are,” she said.
Riverside County Deputy Kevin Brooks, a member of the K-9 unit, said the event helps illustrate that police dogs are not always vicious.
“We hope to show that the dogs are under control, that they are our partners and not just mean animals,” Brooks said.
And German shepherds are not the only dogs that serve the badge. There are bloodhounds, Labradors and other shepherd breeds in the mix, he said.
Typically, a dog might train several years before it is qualified to serve with the police. Not all canine candidates make it to the field, either.
For the dogs that make the cut, and the officers chosen to join the K-9 unit, considered by many to be an elite squad because they are the first-responders to serious crime scenes, the partnerships are filled with love and trust, Brooks said.
“I love it,” said Brooks, whose partner is Roxy, a 7-year-old Belgian malinois.
“I love having her in the car with me.”
For more information about the event or the Sheriff’s Department’s canine teams, visit http://www.rsok9trials.com
By JENNIFER KABBANY
Lance Cpl. Octavio Gonzalez sat with his dog Solo Saturday at Harveston Community Park in Temecula, having just finished the first two events at the 14th annual Riverside Sheriff’s K-9 Team competition.
“He did a good job,” Gonzalez, who is stationed at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, said of Solo. “He met my expectations.”
Gonzalez and Solo were among 56 canine teams representing 22 law enforcement agencies from California, Arizona, Nevada and Baja California, the Marine Corps, U.S. Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security, to take part in the daylong event, said Riverside County sheriff’s Deputy Glenn Warrington, who is a canine handler.
The teams took part in the competition that was spread across two baseball fields and a building at the park. The events tested the dogs’ obedience and agility, and their ability to search in a field and building.
It also allowed the canine teams from the different agencies to show off their skills and gave the public an idea of the capabilities of the dogs and handlers.
“It lets the public know how their tax dollars are being spent,” Warrington said.
Dozens of spectators filled the seats at baseball field 1 as Warrington put the canine teams through their paces along the basepaths. The dogs were given commands to follow as the handlers coached them through the course.
The final task involved the handler leaving the dog unleashed while he walked few yards away to conduct a pat-down search of a “suspect” wearing protective gear. Points were deducted if the dog charged or bit the suspect.
From there, the canine teams went to the agility course where the handler led the dog through a series of obstacles. The teams then moved to another area, where they conducted the searches.
The event opened Whitney Woods’ eyes to the abilities of canine teams as she and her son Sean watched the obedience and agility courses.
“This is just awesome,” Woods said. “I’m amazed at how smart the dogs are.”
By Gene Ghiotto
La Quinta Assistant Police Chief Lt. Raymond Gregory has been promoted to captain and will soon leave his role with the city, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department officials announced Friday.
Gregory, who has been with the La Quinta Police Department for two years, is expected to leave for his new role in October to take command of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Indio and Blythe jails.
“It’s a great honor for me,” Gregory said, adding that he will be joining the fewer than two dozen captains in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
“La Quinta is a fantastically managed city, and they’ve been very supportive of their police department, which has allowed us to have a lot of good quality police services so it’s kind of hard to leave those behind, but I knew it wasn’t forever.”
Gregory will be replacing Cmdr. Mark Barfknecht, who is retiring. The La Quinta Police Department will seek to promote within the agency to replace Gregory by the fall, La Quinta Police Chief Rodney Vigue said.
“He was the first assistant police chief for the city, so it was unique role for him to fill, and he did a fantastic job,” Vigue said. “It’s nice seeing him get promoted to captain.”
Vigue and Gregory first met when Gregory started his career in Blythe, where Gregory ended up becoming one of then-Sgt. Vigue’s senior deputies. There, Vigue said, Gregory was already taking “care of things back then” in the 1990s — just a prelude to his role as Vigue’s right-hand-man in La Quinta.
“We always had the same vision for the direction we wanted to take the city, so it’s been great working with him,” Vigue said of Gregory’s work in developing new programs in La Quinta.
The promotion means even more to Gregory, who has been openly gay on the force for the last 12 years.
“It’s a great honor for me,” Gregory said. “For me, it shows that some of the good ol’ boy ways of the past is being swept away, and people are being recognized for both their abilities and their hard work.”
Gregory, who started his law enforcement career 19 years ago, said it was tough coming out but said his overall experience has “generally been good.”
“There were a few awkward times where people I worked with had their hearts in the right place but things just came out wrong,” he recalled. “But those were exceptions. People recognized that I was here for the work and being gay had nothing to do with it.”
Assistant Sheriff Colleen Walker, the department’s first woman to serve as Assistant Sheriff for Field Operations, said the promotion was well deserved.
“Ray Gregory was an outstanding member of my management team during my tenure as La Quints’s Chief of Police … Ray has a collaborative nature and has worked very hard, serving the residents of the Coachella Valley,” Walker said. “His sexual orientation was not a factor in his promotion, but I welcome his diversity.”
Gregory was officially handed his new badge at a ceremony Thursday, accompanied by his husband, Eric Ornelas.
The two met while Gregory worked as a courthouse deputy at the Larson Justice Center in Indio when Ornelas served on a jury. They have been together for 11 years and have two sons and one grandson.
“A lot of other agencies in California are a lot farther ahead in coming-out officers,” he said, “but I think this is a healthy thing for our sheriffs’ department and our valley law enforcement in general.”
Sheriff Stanley Sniff Jr. promoted Gregory along with Lt. John Hill of the Moreno Valley Police Department.
“I believe the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department needs to reflect the communities we serve, and we still have a ways to go,” Sniff said. “I’m proud of what has been accomplished since taking office. I promote based solely on merit, the ability to do the job.”
City officials said they’ll miss Gregory’s presence, but are proud to see him move forward and remain confident the city will be left in good hands.
“We understand that these folks move on in their lives and get promotions,” Mayor Pro Tem Terry Henderson said. “He’s done a great job for us, and we are sorry to see him go, but we’ve always been replaced with the finest and the best the county has to offer.”