He wears a badge, but it dangles from his collar. When he rides in the squad car, it’s always in the back, next to his water bowl.
Charlie, a 2½-year-old Labrador/border collie mix, has two jobs with the UC Davis Police Department: sniff out explosives and make friends with students.
His sensitive nose helps with the first task, and in the five months he’s been on campus he’s helped confirm the safety of former President Bill Clinton and a former CIA analyst.
His other job is much more visible.
From rescue dog to police dog
“Since he’s not an apprehension dog — he’s solely an explosives detection dog — he’s very approachable,” said officer Vincent Kwong, Charlie’s handler. “Charlie is pretty much for the campus community.”
Charlie is happy to pose for selfies with students, but tends to have a hard time sitting still. He’s eager to please, and when his handler gives the command to “heel,” he bounds into the air, gluing himself to the officer’s left side.
Charlie came from El Dorado County’s Labs 2 Love Rescue and was fostered in the area before being trained as a police dog. He finished his initial certification in October, and is the campus’ first K-9 since 2009, when an apprehension and explosives-sniffing dog named Grimm retired.
Chief Matt Carmichael felt it was time to bring the program back.
“Since UC Davis is known for its veterinary school, it only makes sense that we would have a K-9 on campus,” Carmichael said. “Charlie gives us a great opportunity to build relationships with students, too.”
Police K-9 Charlie says hello to fourth-year animal science major Grant Vaughan. (Cody Kitaura/UC Davis)
Charlie is part of the department’s Outreach Unit — its two other officers work to build rapport with the campus community and also run the Community Academy and Cadet Program — and regularly spends time interacting with students, faculty and staff.
Sit still for a selfie? Maybe!
“Charlie is very friendly — although he’s not very good at staying still for selfies and portraits — he is very good for petting,” Kwong said.
As they walk through the Memorial Union, Kwong and Charlie spark comments about how cute one of them is, and students ask if they can pet the four-legged cop.
Charlie can be a comforting sight for students who are away from home and their own family pets, Kwong said. The department hopes to bring Charlie to the residence halls to lift spirits and provide positive interactions with campus police.
Working for the department’s outreach team is a definite change of pace for Kwong, an eight-year veteran of the force who previously worked on the Sacramento campus.
Pop open the trunk to his squad car now and you’ll see traditional police gear, as well as toys used to reward Charlie after a job well done.
Part of Yolo bomb squad
It’s a tough job: Charlie focuses intently and breathes quickly when sniffing for explosives, Kwong said.
The pair is part of the Yolo County Bomb Squad, a multiagency team with only one other dog trained to detect explosives.
Ultimately, one of Charlie’s jobs is lighthearted and casual, while the other is very serious and potentially dangerous. Kwong said he and the dog live together and rely on each other.
“It’s pretty much like father and son,” he said. “He looks up to me for food and for play, and I look to him as being my partner. Hopefully we take care of business when we get a call out or have to do sweeps.”