By Tamra Strentz, SASF

On a Saturday night in April, I hit the streets of downtown and north Seattle with someone who represents the ultimate in GRRRL power: K9 Ziva of the Seattle Police Department and her handler, Officer Mark Wong. Not only was Ziva the first certified and successful female patrol canine on the Seattle force; for several years, she was the only female patrol dog (vs detection dog) in the entire state of Washington. SPD now has a second female dog who has been working the streets since the end of last year. She will be 10 years old in November and due for retirement but who wants to retire when there are bad guys to get?  She stays consistently at the top of the Seattle police K9 gang in terms of her tracking and arrests, too.  She’s a 60-pound crimefighting German Shepherd and then some.

Her littermate/brother Jaeger is also a K9 with the Seattle police.  Her likely successor, is seven-month-old Katniss, who is living with Mark, Ziva and his family, and preparing for training.  Ziva’s retirement date is not set but Mark thinks she will continue working into early 2018. That’s bad news for the bad guys in Seattle but maybe good news for her fellow K9s  who would love to have a chance at the top. Ziva has had about 100 captures in her career and goes to about 100 calls (both K9 and non K9) a month. 

The experience of riding along with Mark and Ziva from 8:30 pm to 3:30 a.m., came to fruition as I was one of the winners of the K9 ride-along at the 2016 SASF Raining Cats and Dogs Auction. I had tried in 2015, but my friend Peter proved more relentless with the bidding.  Given that this may be Ziva’s last year on the force, I was thrilled to win the experience.

As a kid growing up with CHiPs and taking on sidewalk crime fighting with neighbor kids to fourth grade career day where I spoke about my plans for a career with police or state patrol, I’ve always carried an appreciation, interest and respect for law enforcement.  So, the opportunity to ride shotgun with the K9-3 team was a great learning experience — a chance to see police work in action, marvel at the talents of a K9 and see another side of Seattle at night.

Mark and Ziva and the other K9 teams have specially outfitted Ford Explorers. The police dogs have the entire back seat area sans seat and with a cushion to rest on  between assignments.  Ziva snoozed during a good bit of the night or just relaxed until she sensed she was needed.  In the front, Mark has screens that display a running list of all calls coming into dispatch, calls that are being responded to or one that are closed or have further updates.  We could also watch Ziva on a video screen as well.  There is also a map showing locations of all the patrol cars are in the area and who is responding to various calls.  At times, the screens were slow to refresh, so for us office dwellers who deal with tech challenges on the desktop, police on the go experience the same thing, likely under more stress.

As part of a K9 team, Mark and Ziva are free agents who get to pick which calls they go to, unless they are specifically called for to track down a suspect.  On my Saturday night with Mark and Ziva, they were assigned to cover downtown and north Seattle and this geography meant covering 120 plus miles in a night.  Another K9 team was covering the south, West Seattle and Capitol Hill.  It’s important for the patrol officers to know Mark and Ziva are ready to support them, so even when

 

there’s not a specific need for Ziva’s tracking talents or show of force intimidation (good strong barking at a suspect), they’ll show up at various calls on the ready.  It builds goodwill, supports police relationship building and is a good PR move for the K9 team.

All police cars have cameras running continuously and officers are all mic’d.  We went back and watched various footage so I could see how this worked. This is part of Department of Justice requirements for police departments across the country.  There is also significant officer back up, so at every call we went to, I would say, there were at least 3 other units that included officers in cars or on bikes.

Our night included responding to a variety of calls, arriving after the patrol cars who take a lead on handling the situations and folks involved. These included a suspected burglary site with two suspects reported leaving the scene (they were long gone when we arrived with no trail to chase); a one-car accident (on an exit ramp (no one was hurt); a paranoid man struggling with substance abuse and fearing there were people in trees spying on him (he declined help); a man drinking many beers in the front seat of his car on public street (he would later be arrested for DUI and would tie up the traffic officer for a few hours by refusing tests);  a woman trying to enter a house by breaking a basement window by tapping  lightly with a brick (intoxicated, without ID, no keys and claiming it was her rental property. When a tall officer peeked into a high window and asked her to describe the interior and contents, despite her condition, she nailed it.)  We also took a break from the action and ran some training drills in a parking lot.  Mark and I walked a route to lay a trail and then got Ziva out to track our route.  She did it with flying colors and was rewarded with her “sleeve” which is what an officer will wear to play the bad guy when doing drills with K9s.

We also took a detour to the southside to see if K9-3 could support another K9 team and officers who were trying to track a bad dude wanted for domestic violence charges, weapons, etc.  He managed to evade officers but while we were waiting on the side of a road, a mini-van came down the road and hit another police car which led Mark to pull the van over.  Turns out the driver had a warrant out for his arrest and was a belligerent cri

minal type so Ziva got to come out of the car to provide ‘’show of force’’ tactics in which she growls and barks to let the guy know if he messes around or tries to run, she and Mark will be right on his trail.  And with her track record, there is no need to test her.  She caught another domestic violence suspect just the night before. She found his shoes stuck in the mud and tracked him down climbing into blackberry bushes. When he refused to stop, Ziva went in after him and pulled him out.

Our visit to the southside provides a foreshadowing to how our night ended. We were on a call downtown where a drunk man claimed he’d been assaulted by a sizable bartender who was legally in the right to cut him off from alcohol and kick him out when he refused to leave. As you’d expect, the drunk wasn’t very good at getting his story across.  While this continued and patrol officers handled the situation, Mark got a radio call that there was a chase in progress coming from the southside and heading up I-5.  We jumped in the car to support the effort, entering 1-5 at the Olive entrance ramp.  We could see lights from police cars in front of us and behind us as we heard reports that the suspect was reaching triple digit speeds in his van.

We exited at the 85th and Aurora/exit ramp 172, listening to dispatch report location of the suspect’s van. The pursuit ended at Sandel Playground on 1st Ave NW. A white van was parked with hazard lights on at the corner of the park. Police cars surrounded the park. Mark got Ziva out and I followed them into the park, noticing to my right police officers were running to get into position with their rifles. Mark had me stand behind a big tree, as trees will block rifle fire should the suspect come out firing.

It turned out this van belonged to the suspect who had been tracked on the southside earlier in the evening. And police closed in on him later, knowing he had automatic weapons and drugs, he fled the scene which led to the chase.  An officer called over a loudspeaker for the driver to exit the vehicle  — no response. This was repeated over the course of 10-15 minutes as officers stood in positions behind cars with rifles in position. Finally, with no response from the driver, it meant a S.W.A.T. team needed to be called as it was possible the driver has hiding in back of van. Given it was after 3 a.m., Mark made the call we would leave and head back to the training center on the southside as his and Ziva’s shift was ending. Another K9 team was also on the scene and would support as needed.  Mark updated me the next day that S.W.A.T. arrived and did their maneuvers and it sounded just as you see on TV – the big armored truck blocking in van, stealthy S.W.A.T. guys getting in position, flash bang going off, etc.  It turns out the van was empty which means the suspect had gotten away.  He was just ahead of the first patrol car on the scene so he got out and disappeared into the night before we pulled up at the edge of the park. During a search of the park, officers found guns and suspected narcotics in and around the van.  I have no doubt Ziva or one of her fellow K9s will track him down in the near future. And I think he’ll then wish he would have surrendered that night at Sandel.

While the night ended on a pretty exciting note for this civilian, overall, the time spent on the 3rd shift with Mark and Ziva, provided great perspective into learning about the K9 team and how they work and support the patrol and traffic officers, the challenges officers face as they do their jobs and how they support and protect the people of Seattle 24 hours a day across three shifts.  It was an amazing experience, made even better knowing that my winning bid also helped support animals at the Seattle Animal Shelter.

 

Photos by Carla Blazek, Tumbled Bones Photography

Fast Facts :

Ziva, Police Dog, Seattle Police Department

Breed:  German Shepherd
DOB: 11/15/2007
Years with SPD: 7
Call Sign:  K9-3
Favorite toy: Her red Kong Biscuit Ball, green Cycledog turtle, and of course playing fetch with the Chuck-it
Favorite thing to do when not on duty: Hang out with her people and her dog siblings Sully and Katniss
Handler:  Mark Wong

Mark Wong, A/Sergeant, Seattle Police Department

Education:  University of Washington, B.A. in Criminal Justice (switched major from business after a summer interning in insurance industry)
Years with SPD: 24
Years with K9 Team: 7
How many police dog partners he’s had: Ziva is his first K9