Officer and her canine partner scour the streets for crime while residents sleep
Article by Kevin Forestieri. Photos by Natalia Nazarova/ Mountain View Voice newspaper
Every week, K9 Officer Dorene Hansen hits the streets of Mountain View around the time that everyone else is headed to bed. Once her 5-year-old German shepherd, Odin, hops into the back seat of the police car, the crime-fighting duo gets rolling as they keep an eye out for anything suspicious until the sun comes up.
Hansen is one of two K9 officers at Mountain View Police Department, where she has been working for the for 23 years -- making her the most senior officer on the force. As a seasoned veteran, Hansen is one of several officers scanning city streets at night for what she calls "bad guys" committing crimes.
During a ride-along on Aug. 25, it was clear that Hansen doesn't wait around for crime reports to come in over the radio -- she takes a more proactive approach. Throughout the night, Hansen kept a close eye on the areas that attract criminal activity, like the 24-hour Walgreens at Grant Road and El Camino Real. She didn't hesitate to pull someone over for minor traffic offenses -- anything from a broken tail light to failing to stop at an intersection -- and it became clear why, when one of the traffic stops escalated into an arrest for suspected methamphetamine possession.
"It happens at least once a night," Hansen said, sealing the small bag of white crystals into the evidence locker. "It's all about being at the right place at the right time."
Hansen started working for the police department in 1993 as a community services officer, and got hired as a full-time officer in 1997. Much of her career has been as a K9 officer, working with a police dog named Larry before adopting Odin in 2013. Popping open the trunk of her police car in preparation for another night patrol, it looked certainly looked like the vehicle belonged to a dog owner -- inside were two giant dog bowls, and dozens of dog leash straps dangled from overhead.
After building a strong relationship with Odin and going just about everywhere with him, Hansen taught him how to track down suspects and illicit drugs including marijuana and methamphetamine. Odin is not trained, however, to attack or take down anyone on the run.
"He can search for people or dope, but he can't apprehend suspects," she said.
Though Odin has assisted in plenty of impressive arrests -- one suspect even called him "awesome" after he was discovered during a pursuit in February 2014 -- all the credit went to Hansen during the ride along. During a casual conversation with another officer at the Mountain View Shopping Center, Hansen caught a glimpse of a bicyclist without a headlamp or rear reflector and, without hesitation, hopped into her car and pursued the rider.
During the traffic stop, Hansen said she carefully watched the way the suspect responded to her questions, and said it was clear to her that the man had drugs on him. Sure enough, a search of his backpack revealed a bag with roughly 2 grams of methamphetamine and a meth pipe wrapped in a paper towel.
Hansen has something of a reputation for the gift of gab and her ability to persuade suspects into 'fessing up to drug charges. In a 2014 interview with Hansen on the Mountain View Police Department podcast, Lt. Saul Jaeger called Hansen the "meth whisperer," and recalled one traffic stop where Hansen had determined the driver had drugs in the car within 30 seconds. She got the suspect to admit that "dope" was in the car, Jaeger said, and sure enough, there was methamphetamine inside.
The power of persuasion could stem from Hansen's disarmingly nice attitude, which she said mostly plays to her advantage as a police officer, but occasionally gets interpreted as a sign of weakness. The conversation between her and the suspect, later identified as 20-year-old from Sunnyvale, was strangely cordial. She knew a little about him because of his past run-ins with the law, including that he has a newborn child, and offered him advice about getting clean and being a good father while they stood amid the flashing lights blazing from three police vehicles. Despite his past criminal charges and alleged gang involvement, Hansen said she believes he is a good kid who just needs to turn his life around.
After heading back to the department to file away the evidence, Hansen was ready to get back on the road and continue her proactive style of policing late into the night. She said other officers in her situation that night may have hesitated and let the bicyclist slide, but she is always ready to seize the opportunity.
"I want it," Hansen said. "I'm hungry for it."