By Christine Bolaños
BERTRAM — There’s a new canine in Bertram. But he isn’t just any four-legged furry pet commonly referred to as man’s best friend. He is Bock, a lifelong K-9 officer trained to help law enforcement locate drugs in vehicles, buildings, lockers, luggage, open areas and just about anywhere a criminal could hide narcotics.
“When I first got here I realized we had some missed opportunities probably with some narcotic trafficking that was coming through our town, or through our community or through the county,” Bertram Police Chief J.J. Wilson said. “I realized if we had a dog for that purpose then we could probably cut off some of the transport that was coming in through our community.”
Wilson, who previously worked with Houston law enforcement, knew it was a tried-and-true method to fighting drug trafficking.
“I just wanted to continue what I learned in Houston and use it out here as well,” Wilson said.
He joined Bertram in July 2015 after being drawn to its small-town atmosphere.
“It’s a close-knit community where everybody knows everybody else,” Wilson said. “Everybody’s on the same page as far as community growth and stuff.”
Wilson served with the Houston Police Department for 25 years and retired as a homicide detective there.
“It was time for a change and (I was) looking for something completely different and this was it,” Wilson said.
The police department does not keep records of drug busts, per se, but Wilson said the cases are highly concentrated in busy commute areas.
“We know the I-35 corridor is like the number 1 spot through Texas, San Antonio through Austin — that’s a big spot, and so law enforcement was hitting it so heavily that we realized we were starting to take some detours along to some of the county roads and stuff,” Wilson said. “We’re not sure exactly but it’s becoming more and more prevalent. As law enforcement hits I-35 heavily then we see more traffic come through these back country roads.”
He hopes Bock will help Bertram PD track those numbers now.
Bock is a German Shepherd who has done training in San Antonio, Austin and Williamson County. He was born in Belgium.
“He’s six years old so he has a few good years left in him,” Wilson said. “That was our goal to bring a dog and work him for a few years and let him retire here in Bertram as I hope to. Just kind of take it from there and if it’s a success then we’ll continue to use more and more dogs.”
As the community and county notes the success, Wilson hopes other agencies will bring dogs in as well.
“He worked with Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and I know he was a big success,” he said. “They said he was one of the best dogs they had that came through there. Very good at finding narcotics and finding those hidden compartments in vehicles so that was his biggest success as far as Williamson County goes.”
Wilson said Bock is not a house dog. He’s a working dog who is at his happiest when he is out on the field or in training.
“He can be aggressive at times and he’s focused on the mission which is to find the drugs,” Wilson said. “He’s not one we can take home or use him for school programs where kids could pet him. He’s more of a working dog. His entire focus is finding those narcotics.”
Bock gets his training from professionals at Pacesetter K9 in Liberty Hill. The veteran-owned-and-operated company specializes in quality training for dogs used for law enforcement or personal protection purposes.
“I got him at the beginning of October and he had been off of narcotics for about six months,” said Brad Langham, manager and training director at Pacesetter K9. “I’m guessing he hadn’t done any kind of training; he was just retired. They realized he had too much working drive left so they brought him to me and said, ‘find him a home.’
“So I gave the dog to the police department of Bertram and they got a donation for the handler course to be able to train,” Langham added. “The only thing I’ve done is refresher training to help get him back up to speed on narcotics. We’ve also gone to a positive reinforcement side to make him a happier dog than what he was before.”
The plan is for Bock to continue training with Sgt. Scott Conner weekly and they will return to Pacesetter K9 or a similar facility for annual re-certification.
“Just to make sure everything is up to speed and to help advance the dog in the long run,” Langham said.
Conner said Bock works countless hours, including on the field and during training.
“Throughout the day, you figure working 10-12 hours a day and its constant traffic stops,” Conner said. “It probably won’t be a solid block all the way through, but he’ll get training every single day he works. I would say just in doing that and working with him it could be four hours a day.”
Langham said Bock is trained to find marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin and ecstasy.
“Each one of those are different weights,” he explained. “(Bock) knows how to find like one gram of something and he’s found hundreds of pounds of everything. He’s an aggressive-response dog so when he finds something he’s going to scratch on it.”
Wilson said the community is already talking about Bock joining the department. The support is reflected in monetary donations including a $2,000 donation from Danny Floyd, owner of D.I.J. Construction in Bertram. He said Shiner Beer is going to contribute in a soon-to-be-seen way.
“We’re hoping that some of these folks that might take this route through our county will pick an alternative route and not come through Bertram or through Burnet County,” Wilson said.