CALLED TO SERVE
CALLED TO SERVE
by Lisa Smith-Putnam
“Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” ~ Booker T. Washington
As a native of Seattle who spends as much time as I can there, I delight in highlighting love on those who hail from the great Northwest.
The story of Detective Ian Polhemus and Police Dog Bear is a love story. A love story between a man and the job where he feels called to serve, a love story between a dog who was rescued for a second chance at life and his service, and a love story between a man and his dog. They share a bond like no other as they serve the community they love—fighting the bad guys like two superheroes in a movie. But this is not a movie; this is real life, and real bad guys and gals are out there doing some really bad things. Detective Ian doesn’t consider himself and Bear heroes—to him, they are just doing their job. It’s not pretty, but they save lives, lives of the most vulnerable members of our society—children. Detective Ian and Bear are saving children who have gone missing and are being exploited.
Detective Ian and Police Dog Bear call the Seattle Police Department (SPD) home. Seattle is an incredible place—full of music; culture; and smart, happy, friendly people. With Microsoft, Starbucks, REI, Eddie Bauer, Boeing, Simply Pets, and much, much more, why would anyone want to leave? Some folks say because of the weather, but if you’ve ever been in Seattle during summer, you will know that Seattle’s weather is the best kept secret. And our Police Department includes some of the finest!
For the first ten years of his career, Detective Ian was on patrol on the third watch, which is the night shift—eight or nine hours in the evening. After about three or four years on the force, he realized that the K9 department was where he wanted to be, and working with a dog was what he wanted to do. So, he decided to enter the quarry program.
The quarry program is a training aid for the active team members. Any individual who has expressed an interest in becoming a future handler must go through the quarry program.
However, at the time, there was a waiting list of twenty to twenty-five people who were already enrolled and waiting for a dog. Detective Ian wanted to be a handler so much that he was willing to spend six or seven years quarrying. If the time challenge wasn’t enough, Detective Ian, as well as others who were quarrying, had to play the role of bad guys and let the K9s hunt them down. About one shift a month, in lieu of putting on his patrol uniform and doing his patrol work, Detective Ian put on street clothes and headed to the K9 center. When I asked him to describe the role of those aspiring to become dog handlers, he chuckled and said, “If you’re thinking that the future handlers were being used as some sort of bait for the dogs, you are absolutely correct.”
The master trainer laid out training tracks that went all over the city, and then they pointed out where they wanted the quarry to run. Sometimes for training, the instructions would be something like this: “I want you to start here by the passenger side of this car and run diagonally over there to that corner. Then, go through this yard, jump that fence, and go through that space over there.” The orchestrated drills covered several blocks of a geographical map that the quarry had to follow.
Periodically, the handlers-in-training had evidentiary items with them, maybe a screwdriver or a fake cap gun or any other item that a bad guy might use. The quarry would then throw the items as they ran.
These exercises are part of the training program for these dogs. Not only are they being trained to track the human scent, but also to locate evidentiary items that are associated with the perpetrator’s scent and that have been discarded along the way.
Detective Ian made himself available to the quarry program a minimum of once a month. For more than six years, he willingly subjected himself to being chased by these highly skilled K9s. Finally, his desire to serve paid off, and his number came up for him to receive his own K9.
He worked with two wonderful dogs during the next five and half years on patrol. His first dog lasted only three months on the street before they realized that he was not cut out for street work. He was too much of a people dog and less of a police dog, so, he got his pink slip and forever home papers. Detective Ian ended up with another dog, Kaiser, described as a phenomenal police dog. Ian spent almost five years working with Kaiser, and then in 2007 a position in the Internet Crimes Against Children task force (ICAC) became available. He applied and went through the interview process; fortunately, he was selected and entered ICAC.
Although it is SPD policy that handlers leaving a unit are given the option of taking their service animals with them, Detective Ian had an inner struggle. He was conflicted about taking Kaiser with him because the dog was so talented and so young, and he loved doing what he did. He could have a long police dog life ahead of him, and thus the struggle for Ian.
What should he do with Kaiser, this sable shepherd, this beautiful dog that meant business, this loyal partner? His boss noticed that Ian was struggling, agonizing, trying to come up with a decision. The master trainer looked at him and said, “Let me make it really easy for you. Stop asking what you want and ask yourself what is best for the dog.” After weeks of indecision, these words of wisdom made the answer immediately clear. Kaiser was no longer going to be his dog.
Ian realized that Kaiser was meant for police work. The happiness, love, and pride in Kaiser and all that he had done, and more importantly, what he could and still would do, were evident in Ian’s voice. “This dog loves to work,” he said.
Ian unselfishly handed Kaiser with off with great care to another handler, so they could have a wonderful partnership. Ian was sad, but he knew that Kaiser had been called to serve, too, and he did it well. He loved it, and Ian didn’t want to take that away. Kaiser had a wonderful career as a police dog and passed away peacefully about five years ago.
Detective Ian made the move to ICAC without Kaiser and spent eight years investigating child exploitation and child pornography cases. However, by the spring of 2015, he’d had enough of the things he had to see investigating these cases. The vileness was taking its toll, and he just couldn’t do it anymore. From a mental health point of view, he had to make a change. Although he wanted to move on to something different, he wanted to continue to serve. He started looking around for a new home internally within the department.
His captain came into Detective Ian’s office and closed the door. Ian recalls thinking, Oh boy! What did I do now?
His captain said, “I understand you’re looking for a new home.”
Ian explained that the job was truly taxing his mental spirit.
Not wanting Detective Ian to go to another unit, the captain told him that he just could not let him go. After biting his tongue not to speak for a second, Ian was happy that he waited as the captain was teasing him. The captain then went on to share with Ian information about a new program within ICAC. Little did Ian know that there was where he would stay.
All Ian wanted to make sure of was that he didn’t have to carry a caseload or look at child pornography. With that, he told his captain to sign him up. Ian could continue to fight the good fight and continue to serve.
Within two weeks after Detective Ian made the switch, a very high-profile case broke all over the national news. The home of Subway’s pitchman, Jared Fogle, was being raided. And Police Dog Bear was leading the charge. Well, of the four-legged kind. Bear was all over national news, smack dab in the middle of the investigation. At the time Bear was living in Indiana with his trainer, Todd Jordan. Todd had found Bear on Craigslist, offered by a family giving him up to a loving home. Todd had been training arson detection dogs for more than twenty years and thought Bear might work out for doing some training.
Bear had come from a home where he was one of five dogs in the house, and he apparently had a tremendous amount of energy. They loved him dearly, but just could not take all that energy with four other petkids running around. That bundle of energy, though, is exactly what makes Bear a rock star in police dog work. Todd was Bear’s third owner, and he was only a little more than a year old. Bear’s life would never be the same!
Detective Ian said Todd is a great guy. “He has only one fault that I can see. He’s a nozzle head.” Ian laughed and explained, “That’s a friendly way us police people refer to firefighters, because as we all know, who doesn’t love a firefighter?”
Todd, with his wonderful fault, ended up training Bear to be an Electronic Storage Detection (ESD) dog. This was Todd’s first experience training an ESD dog. Bear was given a new purpose in life. Although he had been out on local cases and was familiar to those entities, he had not been involved in any national cases. The FBI thought that Bear would be a great asset for the investigation on the Fogle case, a first. They brought Bear in to assist in the search of the residence. And search Bear did. He actually found evidence that had been missed by the human investigators.
Police Dog Bear is not the first ESD dog—he is the third. The pioneer in this program belongs to the Connecticut Police K9 department. They started the program around 2013. In partnership with a forensic laboratory, they were able to determine that there was one chemical compound that was consistently used in all of the different electronic devices. This chemical signature common amongst all these devices is used to imprint that odor onto the dogs.
Connecticut was very successful in training the first two dogs, both of which Ian believes are alive and well and still working.
Connecticut was the first state to have a highly specialized K9 police dog like Bear. Rhode Island was the second, and Washington State was the third.
The ICAC task force is part of a larger federal program under the Department of Justice. Funding for ICAC comes through the Department of Justice down to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency and Prevention. Within that federal umbrella, there are sixty-one task forces scattered throughout the fifty states. Each state has one task force, and the larger states and more populated states might have two or three task forces. For example, Washington State has only one, which is operated through the Seattle Police Department.
Approximately 115 to 120 affiliate agencies throughout the state have signed a memorandum of agreement that they will abide by the Federal ICAC guidelines when investigating a child sexual exploitation case.
When asked if Ian and Bear ever travel for cases, Ian informed me that they do on rare occasions. He recalled one of the cases that took them to Las Vegas. This particular search was of a residence that, prior to the search warrant, had been identified as being a hoarder house. And secure digital (SD) cards or micro SD (microSD) cards can be hidden in a hoarder house very easily.
The investigation team in Las Vegas had heard that Police Dog Bear from the Fogle case was currently in the Seattle Police Department. They immediately thought he would be a useful—and cost-effective—asset in this case.
They could take a team of twenty investigators and spend three long days in the place, costing thousands and thousands of dollars in overtime. Or they could spend 1500 dollars to fly Ian and Bear in and put them in a hotel for a night and let them do the search. The numbers made it easy. Vegas was happy to pay for all the expenses relating to Ian and Bear’s travel.
Ian touted one of the nice things about working for the Seattle Police Department: the department is very supportive in providing mutual assistance to other law enforcement agencies.
Back to Bear’s case in the hoarder house. When I asked Ian if Bear found anything, Detective Ian smiled and said like a proud poppa, “Absolutely! But even when he doesn’t find anything, I’m still proud as long as I know that Bear has worked it well.” Now those are the words of a true loving petparent.
“Bear is only Bear,” Ian continued. “Just like all of us—including humans, we sometimes have our off days. There have been days when Bear has done searches and hasn’t found anything that I’ve walked away a little disappointed, only because I recognized that he didn’t give it 100%. But that’s only about 1% of the time. Most of the time, Bear is pretty spot on.”
One of the reasons Bear is motivated for the hunt is that he is food rewarded. He wants to get in there and be accurate and thorough in what he is doing. And you can just see in his eyes that he knows he has a job to do and wants to do it. He wants to be active!
Bear can be deployed by Ian in two different ways; one is in a pre-search, and the other is in a post-search.
For example, in Vegas, the local team executed warrants prior to going into the residence. They also made sure that the occupants of the home were removed, then Ian and Bear entered to begin their search.
Once in, Ian and Bear did a preliminary search through the house looking for areas that Ian likes to call the hot zones. “We don’t do a detailed search because detailed searches take quite a bit of time. We want to get in and hit the hot zones fast and hard as we have the whole rest of investigation team outside waiting to make entry to do their work.”
Ian went on to explain how Bear conducts his pre-search. “Let’s say there’s a home office with a desk. On a typical desk, you’ll have one main drawer with three on the side. I’ll pull out the main drawer and all three drawers on the side just a couple inches and have Bear check them. If he gives me an indication on one of the drawers, I don’t bother to take time to figure out which drawer he is indicating on. I just take a yellow sticky and put it on one of the drawers. Then on to the book case, and if Bear gives any indication, then again, I’ll just put a sticky on the bookcase. And then we move on to the next and so on.”
When Bear gives his indication, it’s not like one would expect from a pointer dog. Bear is a passive indicator. When he indicates something, he will sit and focus. When I ask if there are aggressive indicators, Ian explained that rather doing a passive sit, the dog will paw and claw. With sensitive digital evidence, though, a paw and claw indicator isn’t appropriate as the pawing and clawing could destroy the evidence.
Ian gives Bear two commands when going through this process. To begin the search, he says, “Seek.” If Bear gives him a hot zone, Detective Ian gives Bear the supplemental command, “Show me.” Then Bear will hold his nose to wherever he is getting the most significant amount of scent.
Using the desk as the example, imagine the drawers being closed. There is typically still space behind the drawers, and depending on the environment with fans and heating and air conditioners, air can be circulating through those spaces.
The middle drawer might have an SD drive in it, but Bear could indicate the top drawer or the bottom drawer, because the air is circulating around. In order to really pin down which drawer it is, Ian would open each one of those drawers individually for Bear search each one until he pointed with his nose exactly which one contained the drive.
Bear has done approximately a hundred searches thus far in his career, and there is no slowing down for him. Ian keeps him sharp by doing his drills every day— rain, snow, or shine.
The most spectacular search that Bear has participated in was of a trailer sitting behind someone’s house. Based on the physical appearance, it was hard to imagine that anyone could live in it, as the trailer looked completely uninhabitable by most people’s standards. Yet someone was living within. Maybe that’s why this search sticks out in Ian’s mind.
The investigation team went in first and conducted their search. When they were done, Bear and Ian proceeded inside to do their work.
While sharing the story with me, Ian held his hands about twelve inches apart. “That’s how much stuff was covering the floor. When you walked in, you weren’t walking on the floor, you were walking in on stuff. About twelve inches of crunchy mess.”
Bear was making his way through the place when he got to about the middle of the trailer. At that point, he started pawing things to move stuff out of his way. He gave Ian an indication that he had something. Ian went over to assist Bear by moving things out of his way. The more Ian cleared stuff away, the more animated Bear became. Ian moved things, and Bear tried to move things until they finally saw a refrigerator. Underneath all this crunchy stuff, sitting on top of a homemade wooden box with a makeshift shelf, sat a refrigerator. The shelf was crammed with many things around the sides and underneath the refrigerator.
Detective Ian pulled everything out, and all the way in the back was a Tupperware bin with a lid on it. Once he pulled it out, he removed the lid and saw about fifteen hard drives inside the container. Bear had been able to smell the items through the plastic container and through all the garbage and all the foul odors.
What is this chemical that Bear can smell? Yes, we wanted to know as well. During the manufacturing process of the digital devices that so many of us use (cell phones, laptops, etc.), one chemical must be introduced on the circuit boards of all these devices in order for them to work.
Detective Ian declines to share the name of that chemical, as the bad guys are always looking for ways to skirt around known mechanisms to do what they do. We agreed not to mention the name for this piece. We want to help Detective Ian and Police Dog Bear keep catching the bad guys. All we need to know is that Bear has the nose and knows!
Bear is not a crossed-trained K9. He is a single source detector dog trained only on electronics. His job is to find only those items. Unlike a narcotic detection dog that can be used to establish probable cause for a search warrant, an electronic device detection dog cannot. It is not illegal to possess an electronic device, however it is illegal to possess cocaine under any circumstance.
BEAR STATS: (Bear has his own business card—or perhaps “pawcard.” Please see the picture.)
DOB: April 11, 2013
A rescue dog that found a forever home.
Ian is his fourth and final owner.
Bear weighs in at about 65 pounds.
He is single, and he is neutered.
He loves his work.
Bear is a mutt with black Labrador features, but Ian thinks he might be part chow based on some distinguishing features. He has the curled tail of the chow, the big head, and four or five black spots on his tongue and on his hindquarters. In the right light, some brown hairs streak through the black hairs.
Bear is not on the job all the time, but he is a food-reward dog. So the only time Bear gets to eat is when he is actually doing his job. If they are not out in the field participating in a search, Ian provides Bear with ample training opportunities within the workplace. Generally, he will have a series of eight to ten exercises throughout the day.
Ian has it down to a master plan. Every night when he gets home, he fills a food pouch with Bear’s daily allotment of food. And the next day, they will do exercises during the day with the goal that before they go to bed that night, the food pouch is empty. So it is very healthy for Bear.
Doctors often tell us humans to have our three square meals and two or three snacks spread throughout the day. High-end athletes eat many small meals during the day to keep their energy up. Bear, being a high-performance working dog, gets approximately eight to ten meals a day spread out over twelve to fourteen hours. So even though he is lean, he still gets his two and a half to three cups each day. Instead of getting it all at once in the food bowl, he gets his food spread out.
On the day of our visit, we got to see Bear do one of his drills, and it was a treat to watch. Ian brought out several boxes, including one in which he had previously placed the item Bear was to find. Bear did a swift beeline to the box and immediately gave Ian a hit. Very impressive! (Please see the pictures.)
At home, Bear is a regular dog. He has to abide by house rules. He has a dog bed right at the foot of the bed, and as with any petkid, he knows the evening routine.
He isn’t the only petkid in the house; he is joined by his sibling, the petkid cat, who is totally not a fan of Bear. Bear loves him, but Maverick, the cat, was there first and is not impressed with Bear.
Both of the petkids are loved, and as it goes sometimes, siblings fight. However, underneath it all lies the love of one another, for sure.
When I asked Ian about the longevity of his and Bear’s working together, Ian reflected and smiled. Detective Ian has some time left on the force, and Bear is his until Bear is no longer able to work or until he stands guard for him on the rainbow bridge.
As Ian said this, he patted his young friend on the head and smiled affectionately. Their bond is of a lifetime, by Ian’s choice. But Bear is a long way from slowing down anytime soon, in part because of PetCare Hospital in Millcreek, Washington. Doctor Douglas Fraser gets a shout-out, as he keeps Bear in tiptop shape to do his work day after day.
And keeping Bear and Ian well is important, as there are many bad guys to stop. Apparently, child pornography is on the rise.
The most important thing that Ian wants people to know is that he gets excited every day because he gets to work with his best four-legged friend. Every day is a good day, because Bear is by his side. Together they truly are working to make the world that much brighter.
I have a feeling that if Bear could talk, he would say the same thing about Ian. Detective Ian was just delightful throughout this whole interview and has that innate nature to put everyone at ease. He is a very astute, humble, and loving guy who cares.
The Seattle Police Department has two heroes in my eyes. I am proud to be a Seattleite, and I call Seattle my forever home, no matter where I may roam. Ian and Bear are some of Seattle’s finest. Together fighting crime like superheroes! The bad guys might be getting better and better and growing, but our guys and gals in blue won’t give up! Detective Ian and Bear won’t give up! This is what they were born to do—they were called to serve!
Washington has two ICAC dogs, Bear in Seattle and another in Vancouver. Unfortunately, Washington State is number one in child pornography cases. Ian believes it is because we are a very high-tech society, a technology corridor here in the Northwest, and exploiting children relies heavily upon technology.
Helen Keller said it best, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Please, if you see something, say something for the children’s sake. Together we can make a difference in this world.
You can contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: http://www.missingkids.com/cybertipline