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On the job: Police Cpl. Robert Gutierrez, K-9 officer
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K-9 OFFICER

On the job: Police Cpl. Robert Gutierrez, K-9 officer

Griffith police officers often hear several different stories when questioning people at traffic stops.

The real story comes out when Cpl. Robert Gutierrez arrives with his K-9, Gino.

"As soon as I pull up, they start talking and I get the truth," Gutierrez said. "They know his nose is going to find it if it's there."

The most difficult part of police work is getting to the truth, he said.

"We're lied to every day and twice on Sunday," he said.

Officers question people separately and address any discrepancies, he said.

The best part of the job is that every day is different.

Gutierrez studied computer information systems at Purdue University Calumet for a couple of years, but he couldn't see himself working behind a desk every day.

He worked for a time at the Chinet paper factory in Hammond — now owned by Huhtamaki, but he knew factory work wasn't for him, either.

Gutierrez said he had known since he was young that he was interested in police work.

"I enjoyed being around people. I enjoyed helping people," he said. "I just didn't think it paid that well.

"You quickly learn after being in the work force it's not always about money," he said. "It's just what you're driven to do."

Gutierrez said becoming a police officer was a family decision.

Gino, a German shepherd who was born in Germany in 2011, lives in Gutierrez's home with his wife and five children.

The dog's favorite place is his room in the basement, Gutierrez said. Gino also likes to be outside when the weather allows. Gino keeps watch of Gutierrez's kids.

"He jumps around and likes to lick them," he said. "He'll actually circle them in the backyard just to make sure no one comes on the property."

Gino goes for walks, runs with Gutierrez and visits the park with the family.

That's Gino and Gutierrez's home life.

Then they have their work life.

Gino tracks suspects, sniffs out illegal drugs and will become aggressive upon Gutierrez's command.

Regardless of where the dog is, he immediately gets excited when he knows it's time to go to work, Gutierrez said.

"He relaxes at home just like any family pet," he said. "When I put my uniform on, he's howling and jumping."

Gutierrez starts each shift, which varies by week, by packing water, equipment and first aid supplies for Gino. They're on call 24/7, but Gutierrez estimated they get called out in the middle of the night just 10 to 15 times per year.

Sometimes Gutierrez and Gino are assigned to patrol an area. On other days, they do a roving patrol assisting other officers.

Police often aren't called until situations are totally out of control and they sometimes see people at the worst points of their lives, Gutierrez said.

"In any situation, you first go in there and make sure everyone is OK," he said.

Police also are out talking to kids on playgrounds and asking residents what's going on, he said.

"We know we can't do this on our own," he said. "We have to get residents involved."

How he got the job

Gutierrez applied to three departments and made the eligibility list for all of them after passing physical and written tests. Two departments called him at the same time, and he chose Griffith after deciding the town offered better pay and health benefits, he said. He joined the department in 2001. About two years ago, he became Griffith's only K-9 officer after applying and interviewing for the position.

Salary

Salaries for Griffith police officers range from $43,893 for entry-level patrol officers to $68,000 for commanders. The department also offers longevity, overtime and specialty pay.

Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says employment of police is expected to increase 5 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is slower than the average for all occupations. New openings likely will be spurred by continued interest in public safety, but some job markets could be competitive.

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