Tustin PD K9 Bravo heads into retirement with many tales to bark about

By Jessica Peralta

K9 Bravo has logged five suspect apprehensions – with bites – over 30 assisted arrests with narcotics finds and over 30 “give-up” arrests over his five years as a Tustin Police K9.

He also recently found 11 kilograms of cocaine and 50 pounds of heroin and methamphetamine. Over the years, he’s sniffed out over hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money and he’s worked thousands of alarm calls.

But the retiring 8-year-old, 65-pound, light brown-colored Belgian Malinois has a side many of the suspects he’s after will not often see: a very quirky one.

Tustin Police Chief Charles Celano, left, with Officer Rene Barraza as they talk about Tustin PD’s retiring K-9, Bravo, in front of the Tustin City Council. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tustin Police Chief Charles Celano, left, with Officer Rene Barraza as they talk about Tustin PD’s retiring K9, Bravo, in front of the Tustin City Council.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“He gets beat up by a 14-pound terrier that owns the backyard,” said Bravo’s K9 handler Officer Rene Barraza of his other dog at home, 14-year-old terrier mix Jackie.

With Bravo retiring, Barraza is rotating out of the TPD K9 unit in February, making room for incoming K9 team Officer Chuck Mitchell and Belgian Malinois Kingsley. There are two dogs in TPD’s K9 unit.

“It’s been great,” said Barraza of his time as a K9 handler.

The entertaining memories flood through Barraza’s mind as he talks about their time together patrolling Tustin, and assisting other cities when necessary.

Tustin Mayor Allan Bernstein and Tustin Police Chief Charles Celano present Officer Rene Barraza’s K-9 partner, Bravo, a special treat during the K-9’s retirement ceremony. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tustin Mayor Allan Bernstein and Tustin Police Chief Charles Celano present Officer Rene Barraza’s K9 partner, Bravo, a special treat during the K9’s retirement ceremony Feb. 21.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Their most memorable apprehension case was pursuing a suspect in a drug deal gone wrong. The victim called police saying he’d been hit on the head with a hammer.

“The [suspect] runs, ends up going to Anaheim and hanging out at one of the druggie friend’s apartments in Anaheim,” said Barraza.

Police located the suspect in the back room of the two-bedroom apartment, he said, and they evacuated the unit. The place was dark – much like the training scenarios Bravo regularly practices in, Barraza added.

“We send Bravo,” he said. “Bravo runs straight through, turns to the left, and that’s when the screaming happens.”

Retiring Tustin PD K-9 Officer Bravo is shown his cake, special made for dogs, at Tustin’s city council meeting. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Retiring Tustin PD K9 Officer Bravo is shown with his cake, specially made for dogs, at Tustin’s City Council meeting.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Bravo bit the suspect on his right arm and the suspect responded by pounding the K9’s head. Each time the suspect hit, Bravo would bite that arm. At one point the suspect kicked Bravo and the dog let go and accidentally pushed Barraza into a closet. Barraza commanded Bravo to bite again. The suspect tried to kick Bravo and the dog bit his inner thigh. The suspect finally surrendered.

As he was being arrested, the suspect told Barraza that he gave Bravo “an A++.” According to Barraza, the suspect said he knew they had a police dog, so he put on a thick flannel shirt in preparation.

Bravo had to stay at the vet for a time because of some head swelling and a broken eye vessel from the assault. Despite the bites, the suspect wanted a picture with the K9, said Barraza.

Tustin Mayor Allan Bernstein presents TPD Officer Rene Barraza’s K-9 partner, Bravo, a special treat during the K-9’s retirement ceremony. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tustin Mayor Allan Bernstein presents TPD Officer Rene Barraza’s K9 partner, Bravo, a special treat during the K9’s retirement ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Then there was the time the city of Orange was experiencing a rash of car burglaries. A task force was created to deal with the problem. The suspects hit one day when the task force was operating in the area, which led to a pursuit. Bravo found one suspect in the pool area of a backyard, another suspect in another yard. In the last backyard, police found some of the stolen property before seeing the third suspect jump out of a toolshed and over a wall. While the third suspect was being arrested, Bravo went into the toolshed. And Barraza heard a commotion.

Needless to say, Bravo got his man.

A lot of the K9 team’s job has involved answering calls where burglar alarms were set off in buildings and homes.

Though many memorable moments took place while on calls, there have been many others that happened during their downtime.

Tustin PD Officer Rene Barraza with his retiring K-9 partner Bravo at Tustin’s city council meeting. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

There was the time Bravo opened the cage door between the front and back of the K9 patrol car and helped himself to some of Barraza’s McDonald’s Frappé – oh, and tore up part of Barraza’s bulletproof vest. And the time he ate most of a baseball, requiring a vet visit and induced vomiting.

Then there was the time Barraza moved Bravo to their patrol car in the parking structure because it was a little too cold in the office for him. He got a call from a patrol officer to come down to the structure.

Bravo was sitting comfortably in the officer’s patrol car. Barraza believes the button on his police vest that can open the back door of his patrol car was accidentally activated, so Bravo ran out and decided to take a stroll through the parking structure.

“It’s been an adventure for over the last five years with him,” Barraza said.

Tustin PD Officer Rene Barraza takes his K-9 partner, Bravo, over an obstacle course during a demonstration for the 20th Annual Tustin Police Open House. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

In this file photo, Tustin PD Officer Rene Barraza takes his K9 partner, Bravo, over an obstacle course during a demonstration at the 20th Annual Tustin Police Open House.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

While he is a highly driven, strong-willed dog, he definitely has a soft side. In fact, about 30 percent of his job is serving as an educational representative at local schools. He’s very good with children.

“We get the requests to go out and do demostrations… We want to get rid of the stigma of [police dogs being] attack dogs,” Barraza said, adding that Bravo regularly gets “beat up” by preschoolers and their 14-pound terrier. “My 2-year-old uses him like a horse.”

As he heads into retirement, that will be Bravo’s new job, watching over Barraza’s three small children – his oldest, his daughter, is now giving the dog commands – and following Jackie around the half-acre yard, running up and down the hills.

Barraza will head into regular patrol duty. And while he’ll certainly miss working with his buddy, he’s also glad he’s retiring a healthy, highly energetic and relatively young police dog. K9 work takes its toll on a dog’s health.

“It’s been a good run,” he said.

Tustin Officer Rene Barraza gets his K-9 partner Bravo ready for a K-9 demonstration for National Night Out. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

In this file photo, Tustin PD Officer Rene Barraza gets his K9 partner Bravo ready for a demonstration during National Night Out.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tustin PD Officer Rene Barraza walks his K-9 partner Bravo past the students from Peters Canyon Elementary in Tustin as he demonstrates Bravo’s training during a school assembly. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tustin PD Officer Rene Barraza walks his K9 partner Bravo past students from Peters Canyon Elementary in Tustin as he demonstrates Bravo’s training during a school assembly.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC