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Deputy Probation Officer Jessey Esposito (Right) assists his K9 partner “Sepp” in the apprehension of a perpetrator (Probation Officer Eric Marshall) in a recent practice drill held at the Inyokern Airport. / Laura Austin Photo

Kern County Probation K9 Unit trains at IYK Airport

 By Helen Tomlin News Review Staff Writer–  The Kern County Probation Department recently teamed up with the California Highway Patrol to do canine (K9) training exercises west of town at the Inyokern Airport.  Scott Seymour, the airport’s manager, was happy to oblige in this effort because he is aware the airport offers a unique place for training.  Not only does the airport provide predictable aircraft hangars, but it also contains a large variety of additional teaching environments, such as secluded rooms, halls, terminals, and open spaces.

Seymour, who was on hand during the K9 training sessions, said, “It’s cool they can come here and do this.”  When Deputy Probation Officer Jessey Esposito initially approached him, he automatically said ‘yes’ because, for years, the airport had hosted other groups for active instruction drills within their facilities, such as military units.   He realizes these K9 exercises at the airport have a serious purpose because these dogs need regular training to fulfill their role in assisting law enforcement.

Esposito brought his K9 partner, “Sepp,” an eight-year-old Belgian Malinois, on this particular training day.  Esposito says this specific breed is good to train because “they can be very motivated to do something [on their own], but they can also follow commands.”  When just over a year old, these dogs can cost as much as $12,000 without training.  But, by assisting the officers, they more than pay for themselves in their service.  Having worked with Sepp for about three years, Esposito said each dog has his own personality and is “not a programmable robot.”  But even a dominating “diva” like Sepp will strive to please his human leader because he and the probation officer have a strong bond, spending almost all their leisure and working time together.   

Because the training day was hot, all the instruction was performed indoors. There were two main exercises in which Sepp was tasked.  His first job was locating the “bad guy” hidden in one of the rooms.  Running through hallways, following “wind scents,” and responding to cues and commands, Sepp competently found the decoy hiding in the back room. In addition to locating people, Sepp can help officers find evidence, such as a piece of contraband pitched aside during a chase, like a gun or a ski mask.  With his strong sense of smell, Sepp can pick up a human odor transferred to that item. Having been drug-trained, Sepp can also alert officers to the presence of illegal substances, such as meth, cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy.

Sepp’s next job that day was to obey what Esposito told him to do with the heavily padded Deputy Probation Officer, Eric Marshall.   On command, Sepp ran toward him but immediately stopped and sat after Esposito shouted, “Cease!” Then, on another command, Sepp grabbed Marshall’s padded arm with his teeth. Again, he only stopped after his trainer’s command.  Understandably, when facing a dog as powerful as Sepp, the majority of suspects give up with no problems.  When they come out with their hands up, they stay safer, as do the officers and the dogs. In fact, said Esposito, “many people surrender after law enforcement officers announce the dog is on the way.”

As the airport manager on-site, Seymour regularly witnesses these K9 trainings.  He said, “These dogs mean business. I am proud to assist them in getting the bad guys off the streets.” He said he has the utmost respect for the officers and K9 partners.