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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530


May 2020 | Volume 13 | Issue 5

The COPS Office is pleased to feature the San Mateo (California) Police Department as the May 2020 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo shows San Mateo Officer Angelica McDaniel in a local park with children petting her K9 partner Ajax.

“He’s a child magnet,” says San Mateo (California) Police Department (SMPD) Officer Angelica McDaniel about Ajax, one of three K9 dogs working for the department. “Children are always attracted to him, asking to pet him. And he’s more than happy to accommodate them, rolling over on his back for belly rubs. Their parents are shocked that a police dog is so gentle with kids.” 

Adults love Ajax too, notes McDaniel, who says that her K9 partner, a seven-year-old German Shepherd, is a bridge to personal interaction in the community. An example she gives is of a young woman McDaniel met at one of the many community events she and Ajax attend. 

After bluntly stating that she didn’t like cops, the girl asked if she could still pet the officer’s dog. A gentle rub behind Ajax’s ears led to an earnest conversation that turned the young woman’s opinion of police officers around.

But gentle as Ajax is, he is also a law enforcement professional who reacts in seconds to a threat or command. And McDaniel cautions the public that they should always ask before trying to pet a police dog, and never approach one in the middle of a crime scene.

Like Hero and Henry, his two SMPD four-legged coworkers, he has been trained to search for narcotics and weapons and to apprehend suspects. To keep his and McDaniel’s skills sharp, they train together on a monthly basis. Says McDaniel, “He’s been on the job for about six years, and is a real pro.” Nobody can outrun or hide from him.

But Ajax knows without being told when the situation is play and when it’s work. He quickly senses and responds to emotions. “If I’m talking to a victim who is hysterical, he remains calm, but when there is a threat or he is given the command to chase down a suspect, he can be ferocious.”  

With their heightened senses, K9s can search for weapons and drugs much better than their human partners. As an example of his ability to literally sniff out problems, McDaniel describes the time he found 60 pounds of methamphetamines in a car that had been stopped by another officer for a traffic violation. “He worked his way around the vehicle, found the meth, then just stood there staring at the location, waiting for us to catch up to him. It was amazing how fast he zeroed in on it.”

In addition to detecting drugs and chasing down bad guys, Ajax prevents crimes. To reduce the incidence of vehicle break-ins and theft in local parking lots, Officer McDaniel simply parks the squad car with Ajax in it and the window rolled down. “When he barks, they get the message,” she says.

But as helpful as he is as a deterrent, detective, and first responder, Ajax is the canine personification of SMPD’s community focused approach to keeping San Mateo safe.  

In describing SMPD’s commitment to working collaboratively with the community, Jeanine Luna, Community Relations Officer and Neighborhood Watch Coordinator, emphasizes the importance of ongoing communication. “Our community members are our eyes and ears for what is happening in our neighborhoods, and help us find ways to reduce crime too.”

To maintain strong relationships, the department supports several community programs. McDaniel and other officers also attend block parties and other events in which they discuss local concerns. “We ask how we can better serve them, and what they as citizens can do to help keep the community safe,” says McDaniel.

But connecting with local people on a daily basis is just as important, or maybe even more so. And Ajax helps her do that every day.

Written with contributions from Officer Angelica McDaniel and Officer Jeanine Luna of the San Mateo Police Department (SMPD). Photo Courtesy of the SMPD, which submitted this entry to the photo contest.

Faye Elkins
Senior Technical Writer

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