‘A Day in the Life’: K-9 officer backs up patrol units with trained canine

Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional story series about “A Day in the Life” of city and county professionals.

A sliver of sunset spills across the gear of Bartlett police officer Christian Schaumburg as he and his three-year-old K-9, Ali, prepare for their night shift.

The German shepherd mix wags his tail in circles, creating a wind tunnel around Schaumburg and watching his handler put on the night’s gear. The officer checks his pistol and wiggles head first into the “turtle shell” of his bulletproof vest, covered with Velcro and pouches for his gear. Finally, he sets the straps so the vest fits snugly around his chest and back.

Ali springs onto a chair and drums a beat into the wall behind him as Schaumburg buckles his electronic leash and scratches his ears.

The drive to work in the patrol SUV is short, and before calling into headquarters Schaumburg starts his day with his usual routine.

“Time to get some go-go juice,” he says, pulling up to Starbucks for a jolt of coffee. Then he calls into the station and starts his night.

Schaumburg has been a police officer for 15 years,working with K-9s since 2000, and he loves his job. He has always wanted to work in law enforcement and is living a childhood dream.

“Being a police officer is all I ever remember wanting to be as a child,” he says. “I grew up in the ’80s, watching ‘Miami Vice,’ and my friends and I would play in the backyard and in the street and would pretend we were Crockett or Tubbs. The only thing I wanted to do as a child was to be a cop.”

Working as a K-9 officer is a multifaceted mix of technology, old-fashioned paperwork and working with a police dog. On average Schaumburg spends about three hours a night doing paperwork and the bulk of his time is spent on patrol work and backing up other officers.

“My job is to assist the Patrol Division and to use my K-9 for a drug sniff, a person search, or to apprehend someone,” he says. “I’m really not tied to the radio as far as getting calls, but I do take calls when the call volume dictates it. If officers are on a break or if I am close, I will take the call. I also do traffic enforcement, look for narcotics, drunk drivers and stuff like that. I also can get any information I need on suspects from my computer in the car and even generate paperwork.”

During the night’s shift, Schaumburg speaks to suspects with dignity and gets the information he needs to do his job. In one incident, he supports other officers breaking up an underaged party where narcotics are suspected. At the scene, Schaumburg and other officers see a teenaged boy smoking what might be marijuana. The teens try to run, but they sit down at Schaum-burg’s commanding voice while the rest of the officers surround the area.

“It’s the sign of the times that these parties happen,” he says. “But, honestly, it’s disconcerting because they have no respect for the law.” He sighs. “I know that they are kids and weed is touted as not that big of deal, but I don’t like it. The really disconcerting part of this is that the parents give their kids the freedom to run around while they go out and party and live their lives, while we wind up raising them by doing this kind of thing. Like the last kid to leave, the mom was having problems with him and wanted me to put the fear of God into him, so I did.”

In his police career, Schaumburg particularly loves working with dogs. He thinks they are the best partner and backup a police officer can have.

“I love working with my dog — he is a wonderful creature and I have instant backup,” Schaum-burg says with a warm smile. “I love that I’m not tied down to one district. I can go anywhere with my K-9. Working with a dog is by far the best job in the police department.”

The dogs have on-the-job satisfaction in common with their human police officers, as they like their work. They can only work so long, with their service depending on several factors.

“People always ask, ‘How long do we work our dogs?’ Schaumburg says. “Dogs, I tell them, they are living creatures and we work them as long as they want to work and as long as their bodies allow them to work. Everything a dog does for us is fun and is to please us.”

Near the end of his shift, Schaumburg comments, “My favorite time of the night is when I’m tired, the shift is going slow, and then something occurs to speed it up, like another officer gets into a foot chase or gets a good call.”

He smiles. “I really like the adrenalin.”

Schaumburg pulls in at headquarters and turns in his paperwork. He also takes the time to give Ali a little playtime in a lush green field nearby that was heavy with dew. Then they load back up and head toward home, and Schaumburg gets to say his favorite words of each night.

“It’s time for the magic words,” he says, clicking his microphone and letting HQ know he’s going off duty. “Kilo 2, I’m signal C.”

Written and photographed by John Collins, special to the Express.