Policeman’s best friend
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles featuring ridealongs with officers from local law enforcement agencies.
SILVERTHORNE – Dogs led Gerald Bozarth to become a police officer. Now, as Silverthorne Police Department’s K-9 officer, his dog Juluka leads him to the bad guys.
Thursday on the Silverthorne pavilion lawn, Bozarth began his second annual dog obedience class — a community policing project that helps form relationships with residents and allows him to share his love and knowledge of the animals. Although the citizens’ dogs won’t learn to track fugitives or sniff out narcotics, they will learn to sit, heel and stay.
Even before the 41-year-old decided to join law enforcement eight years ago, dogs were his passion. Although he vowed never to live with a dog after growing up with his mother who bred collies, two apartment burglaries changed his mind. He bought a Doberman pinscher and, through training the dog, found himself back in the world of canine education. He joined clubs that contracted to train police department dogs and decided to do ridealongs with Front Range officers to see what the job was like.
“I thought, “This is fun,'” Bozarth said. “I can do what I love and use it to do good.”
Twenty years after training his first dog, he now trains canines for police departments around the state – as well as animals and owners in the community he serves.
“Dogs are dogs,” he said. “And the basics are the same, whether it’s for police or the public.”
Bozarth spent two hours Thursday getting to know his students and going over the basics of what the six-week course will cover. Even after the first lesson, dog owners noticed a difference.
“It’s amazing,” said Silverthorne resident Kajetan Glowacki, one of 60 owners to apply for the course the year before. “This should help. We need training, Dutchess and I, because we don’t know.”
By 8 p.m., with the class finished, it was time for Bozarth to hit the streets for the night patrol he loves:
8:15 p.m. – Heading out of the police department headquarters, Bozarth runs into a young, newly discharged U.S. Marine looking for information on becoming a police officer. Bozarth answers questions for 15 minutes, encourages the young man to “go for it” and describes how he found his way to Silverthorne.
“I was with the Sheriff’s Office in Elbert County for about four-and-a-half years,” Bozarth said. “I wanted to find a stronger department and came up to apply in Breck – I saw an ad in the paper. I didn’t get it, but then a friend told me Silverthorne had an opening.”
Before he hits the streets, he looks over the supplies and tools in his trunk: a bean-bag shotgun, road spikes, a hazardous materials suit and an AR-15 assault rifle. “I’m on SWAT, too, so I have a bit more equipment in the back.”
8:45 p.m. – With mostly silence on the dispatch radio, Bozarth accepts Sgt. Tim Osborn’s offer to join him for dinner. Osborn, Bozarth and evidence technician Leslie Burton meet at Old Chicago’s and take a booth. Their dinner conversation is like any between co-workers – “Remember that time?”, “How was last week?” and jokes about friends.
“We get to know the different restaurant people pretty well,” Bozarth said. “Sometimes we run into past contacts. Sometimes a call comes in and we’ve got to go.”
Heading for the door, Bozarth approaches an older Latina employee and asks if she was successful in getting an apartment. Learning she wasn’t, he offers himself as a reference and tells her to try again.
He makes sure the tip is good before leaving. “People think cops are cheap, so we try to tip even better.”
9:58 p.m. – Driving south on Highway 9, Bozarth observes a car with a broken tail light. The driver fails to signal as he changes lanes to enter the interstate, and Bozarth stops him at the on-ramp. As he leaves his patrol car, he rolls the window down so Juluka can get out in case of trouble.
“I lean in low so I can get a good smell,” Bozarth said after collecting the driver’s identification. “Now, I told him if he checks out, he’ll get off with a warning. Your average person relaxes at that point. If he’s hauling drugs or something like that, he won’t relax until I’m gone.”
Dispatch operators inform Bozarth the man’s license is valid and he has no warrants for an arrest. Bozarth sends him on his way.
10:31 p.m. – A suspicious car in front of a house under construction in the Three Peaks neighborhood causes Bozarth to pause. Burglars have filched tools from contractors numerous times, and lights are on in the house and the garage door is open. He runs the car’s license plate number through dispatch; it’s a construction company car. Bozarth turns off the lights and shuts the garage door after a search of the area.
10:52 p.m. – Bozarth spots three cars with teen-agers gathered in the parking lot of the Public Service building at Adams and Sixth. After patrolling two apartment complexes and two trailer parks without incident, he decides to investigate. As he pulls into the lot, one car leaves and Bozarth spots a boy hiding among the trees by the building. He radios in the scenario, and within a minute, a fellow Silverthorne officer, a state trooper, a Dillon officer and two sheriff’s deputies are on scene to help search.
“I don’t want to use the dog in this case,” Bozarth said. “It’s kids – they’re probably just drinking. That would be a little excessive, even dangerous.”
He admonishes the teens for smoking. A 17-year-old boy admits to drinking, but the other remaining carload seems sober. He releases the carload and writes a ticket for the boy. Bozarth asks if there are any drugs or alcohol in the boy’s car. “Go ahead and look,” the boy said. Bozarth does and discovers empty plastic baggies and a marijuana pipe, which he confiscates. He adds possession of drug paraphernalia to the ticket and calls the boy’s mother.
“I’d rather deal with you guys than her,” the boy said. “And tomorrow, my dad gets home. Are you guys required to report this to the school?”
11:50 p.m. – Bozarth decides to do a bar check at the Old Dillon Inn. He talks with a taxi driver, the bartenders and patrons, and he listens to the music.
“I love to check out the bands,” he said. “I play banjo. Ever heard of Leftover Salmon? When some of those guys were in the Left-Hand String Band, I played with them.”
12:30 a.m. – Bozarth’s ride-along reporter isn’t convinced of Juluka’s offensive prowess. The officer suits him up in a bite sleeve and performs a demonstration outside the pavilion. Juluka, cooped up in the car most of the night, is eager to perform. The dog obeys Bozarth’s commands like a soldier and hits harder than his 65 pounds would lead one to believe he could.
1:30 a.m. – After patrols looking for aberrant drivers, Bozarth concedes it’s too quiet a night. He meets two sheriff’s deputies and the other Silverthorne officer at 7-Eleven to get a drink and bond. The officers joke about recent incidents, pressure from superiors and the lack of action. A customer leaves the store and chastises the officers for their “convention.”
“A lot of the younger guys are gung-ho about padding their personal statistics,” Bozarth said. “I don’t really look at it like that anymore. I think more in terms of team statistics and doing the proactive things to prevent the crime. It’s too much paperwork and overtime, otherwise.”
2 a.m. – Bozarth heads back to the police department to complete paperwork and sign off on his weekly evaluation. In an hour, he will be off-duty and dreaming of dogs.
“Sometimes it’s slow like this, and sometimes it’s more than you can handle,” Bozarth said.
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