BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — As most any dog owner knows, canines and their people tend to form bonds unlike any that humans can establish among themselves.
That dynamic is very much at work in the bond between police officers and police canines. But to that relationship, add this dimension: They often literally place their lives in the hands, or the paws, of the other. And so it was with Officer Brock Mueller and his partner Jango.
That unique bond was evident Friday morning when Mueller eulogized his best friend and canine colleague, a 5-year old Belgian Malinois, who was killed April 27 doing what he was trained to do — stop an armed, fleeing suspect.
“For the last four years Jango and I have been on so many calls, hunted dangerous suspects, forced criminals to surrender and have been tested on several occasions,” Mueller said in eulogizing his partner. “Many of you here today have shared these moments. I want to thank you for trusting Jango and I to keep you safe.”
Jango died while accompanying Bakersfield police officers — including Mueller, his handler — in the pursuit of a car thief. After crashing into a fence on Highway 58, 20-year-old Dalton James Gerrit Kooiman, who was due in court the following week on felony gun charges, took off on foot. When police cornered him, Kooiman started shooting. Police returned fire and killed the suspect. But Jango, shot three times, was mortally wounded.
”Even though the job is unique and the partnership is unique in terms of the duties and what they perform for our community,” BPD Chief Greg Terry said, “the bond is no different. And when there is a separation, a break in that bond, I think what you saw today was the grieving and the loss of that bond.”
Jango, born in the Netherlands and trained to respond to commands in Czech, became the first police canine killed in the line of duty in the BPD’s 123-year history — and he was accorded all appropriate honors at Mechanics Bank Theater — including a procession of squad cars down Truxtun Avenue, an honor guard and a bagpipe sendoff.
The memorial was a multi-agency event. Canine handlers from the California Highway Patrol and the Kern County Sheriff’s Department were also there to send off Jango.
Jango wasn’t just a rank-and-file member of the K-9 unit — he was a champion, and that’s not hyperbole. He placed first in explosive ordnance detection at the 2019 Murrieta K-9 trial — and put his bomb-sniffing training to work for the visits of Vice President Mike Pence and — just a few weeks ago — first lady Jill Biden.
So — in addition to the personal loss felt by many — BPD loses a valuable, uniquely skilled member of the team.
Police officers have guns and words to convince suspects to comply. Canines have little but training and complete loyalty in their handlers. And so it was with Jango, who received a “job well done” farewell from the BPD.