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LOPD welcomes new K9s Chase and Szemi

The new patrol dogs will be partnered with Officers Bryan McMahon and Brandon Clausen


REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - From left: Officer Vaughn Bechtol and Charger, Officer Bryan McMahon and Chase, and Officer Brendon Clausen and Szemi.Lake Oswego residents can soon look forward to seeing two recent additions to the police force out and about in the City: Chase and Szemi, the department’s new K9 service dogs.

Since 2013, K9 Charger has been the department’s only police dog, and he’s scheduled to retire at the end of the year.

“We’re really excited to have the new dogs,” says Lt. Darryl Wrisley, who oversees the K9 unit. “They’re extremely beneficial — in the long run, they save us money. They’re much safer for the officers on the road, and we find a lot more criminals with them than we would without them.”

Wrisley says the LOPD has been unable to bring on new dogs for the past few years because K9 training is an intense and time-consuming process, and with several new officers in training, the department didn’t have enough staff to lose anyone from regular patrols.

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - Officer Vaughn Bechtol and K9 Charger. At almost 10 years old, Charger is preparing for retirement - although Bechtol says he's certainly not slowing down.But now the full staff is able to cover patrol shifts, and officials quickly found eager volunteers to partner with the canines. Chase will come on board this month and Szemi will join police early next year.

“I’d been wanting to do it for a while,” says Officer Brandon Clausen, who is about to begin training with Szemi. “I’d worked with Charger and enjoyed it; I liked it more and more.”

Szemi (pronounced sem-ee) is a 14-month-old German shepherd from Hungary, and will be partnered with Clausen on patrol after going through a rigorous six-week training program and passing state certification. He’s expected to join Clausen on the streets in early 2017.

“It’s a huge undertaking; it takes a lot of work, dedication and patience,” Clausen says. “It’s more than I thought it would be, but it’s very rewarding — I love it.”

The other newcomer is Chase, an 18-month-old German shepherd from Slovakia, who will be partnered with Officer Bryan McMahon. This is McMahon’s second round as a K9 handler — he was previously partnered with former LOPD K9 Kai. Chase has been in training since October, and is now prepared to take state certification tests and go out on patrol with McMahon in December.

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - K9 Charger has been LOPD's sole police dog since 2013, but newcomers Chase and Szemi will fill the ranks next year.“You either love the dog work or you don’t,” McMahon says about his decision to take on a new K9. “He’s pretty much your family.”

Wrisley says the process of recruiting new dogs begins with the handlers. Officers volunteer for the role and go through a competitive process to pick out future handlers, so the department can then go find dogs to match the individual officers.

Wrisley, McMahon and Clausen all traveled to Indiana two months ago to pick out the new K9s from a breeder that specializes in imported dogs. Wrisley says they evaluated more than a dozen dogs to find the best fit for Lake Oswego.

“We’re looking for dogs that can track really well, and dogs that knew the difference between work and play, and that have the stamina to work hard,” Wrisley says. “(Plus) things that you and I wouldn’t normally think of — are they afraid of slippery floors? Can they go right from biting to playing instantly? Can they go up and down stairs?”

McMahon notes that the ability to understand the distinction between work and play and to instantly switch between the two is one of the most important traits in a K9, particularly when it comes to grabbing suspects — they have to not only bite and continue to hold on, but also immediately let go when ordered, and not bite again. As McMahon puts it, “they don’t take anything personally.”

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - K9 Chase is one of two new LOPD dogs, and will start going out on patrol later this month with his handler, Officer Bryan McMahon.Charger’s handler, Officer Vaughn Bechtol, adds that while the dogs can be used to physically subdue criminals, they also function as effective deterrents; many criminals surrender when warned that a K9 will be sent after them.

About “90 to 95 percent of our captures are without a bite,” Bechtol says. “Charger has only had eight or nine bites in his career.”

All three officers say that the secret to training a police dog is the same as any other dog: positive reinforcement, with constant repetition and carefully timed rewards.

“It’s the same thing (as a regular pet),” McMahon says. “Whatever motivates the dog.”

Police dogs can be trained for different specializations such as drug and bomb detection, but Chase and Szemi will be patrol dogs that accompany their handlers on regular duties. Patrol dogs are trained to help with tasks such as tracking evidence, locating people and checking and clearing dangerous areas.

They also continue training throughout their careers, for a minimum of four hours each week. The difficulty of the training tasks is gradually ramped up, increasing the K9s’ proficiency at things like jumping over obstacles and tracking across long distances.

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - K9 Szemi is still in training, but will join his handler, Officer Brandon Clausen, on patrol early next year.“During that (weekly training) time, they try to expose them to things they haven’t been exposed to,” Wrisley says. “Other animals, walking up and down ladders, finding people in the lake that are hiding. We just try to expose them to everything we possibly can that they might come across during their work day.”

Wrisley says residents shouldn’t hesitate to say hello if they run into Chase or Szemi around the town — just be sure to check with McMahon and Clausen beforehand. Socialization is a critical part of K9 training, teaching the dogs how to behave in friendly situations and to know the difference between tracking a criminal and tracking someone who needs help.

“We will also use them to find lost elderly people, lost children and evidence from crimes,” Wrisley says.

With Chase and Szemi preparing to take over, veteran K9 Charger can look forward to a well-earned retirement later this month. Charger is a German shepherd from Canada who joined the LOPD in January 2009. He was 1 year old at the time.

“He becomes a couch potato at home, and gets to relax and eat cookies,” Wrisley says. “(Retired K9s) just become pets.”

Charger already lives with Bechtol’s family and will continue to do so as a regular pet, but Bechtol says that the K9 still has plenty of energy — and of course, he doesn’t know he’s retiring. The challenge will be to make sure he stays focused on play rather than work. Bechtol says he won’t be able to wear his uniform at home anymore, because Charger recognizes it as a signal to start working.

“I’ll have to keep a constant eye on him,” Bechtol says, “because he still has those instincts — he still wants to work.”

Contact Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..