Sacramento police K-9s dashed in and out of rooms Wednesday as they searched for narcotics and would-be criminals during a training exercise at the now shuttered Sutter Memorial Hospital in East Sacramento.
The hospital, which closed its doors last year, is slated to be demolished in the next several months. But before the walls come down, police got permission from Sutter Health to train in the abandoned building.
“We rarely have such a large place to train,” said Sgt. Josh Dobson of the K-9 unit. “This is a jewel.”
Police dogs typically train in houses and sheds, so a spacious hospital is a treat because it offers numerous scenarios and environments, according to Dobson. The dogs trained on multiple floors of the 500,000-square-foot campus.
During a preview for the media, Dobson ordered his 3-year-old German shepherd Ace to attack someone posing as a criminal.
Ace dashed through the dimly-lit concrete tunnel and swiftly apprehended the suspect -- actually a police volunteer wearing protective gear -- with a bite on the arm, for which he was rewarded with his favorite toy. At one point, however, Ace briefly ignored Dobson’s orders, apparently because the K-9 was dazed by the barrage of TV cameras recording his every move.
“He’s not watching me. He’s watching the cameras,” Dobson said.
Sixteen K-9s participated in Wednesday’s training, including units from West Sacramento police and UC Davis police.
Training a K-9 is challenging work. Dobson said he tested 20 dogs before picking up Ace from a designated law enforcement breeder.
“It takes a lot of repetition and time to read the dog,” he said. “The handler-dog relationship is so important.”
The sergeant described K-9s as providing a “fifth sense” to humans. “Sometimes the dog will see or smell something before we do,” Dobson said.
Sutter Memorial, long considered Sacramento’s “baby hospital,” opened in 1937 as the first air-conditioned hospital west of the Mississippi River and then went on to deliver 348,089 babies. It closed in August after services were moved to the midtown Sutter Medical Center. The old hospital will eventually be the site of new homes.
Crews are currently removing toxic building materials and next week will begin methodically tearing down units by using heavy machinery, said Matt Pohley, a project manager with Rudolph and Sletten.
Sacramento police SWAT officers are expected to train at the hospital on Thursday.