Police get five new officers, plus one canine

Five police recruits and a four-legged, 2 1/2 -year-old canine colleague were the latest to join the Glendale Police Department on Tuesday.

Scott Wessel, James Brand, Ian Torley, Alex Mena and Carlos Soriano, who became a reserve officer, were sworn at a one-of-a kind ceremony in which the department’s newest German shepherd, Branko, also earned a badge to carry on his collar.

“He is truly official now,” Police Chief Ron De Pompa said of Branko.

Prior to becoming Branko’s handler, Officer Alex Rolando worked for more than 14 years with the department and spent at least 2,000 hours with Glendale’s K-9 unit. He’s all too familiar with the strength of his four-legged partners, including police dogs Yudy, Isy, Quwai and their retired colleagues: He has allowed them to clamp their jaws down on him during training while wearing a “bite suit.”

“Not only do we have to take care of the dogs here, but they go home with us too, so they are a part of the family,” Rolando said. “We have to care for them 24 hours a day, so it is a big commitment.”

Branko arrived in the U.S. from Germany earlier this year.

Soon after, Rolando and Branko underwent a five-week school in which police dogs learn the basics of searching for evidence and suspects, tracking, obedience and protection. He was also certified in sniffing out narcotics.

Branko’s training proved to be successful in April when he detected a scent belonging to a burglary suspect who had fled from police and was hiding in a garage.

The suspect, who allegedly was part of an organized crime group targeting affluent neighborhoods, was found and arrested.

Police dogs have proven to be a “great asset” for officers, especially in searching for suspects, De Pompa said.

“They help us do our job better and we are very pleased we were able to add Branko to the ranks,” he said.

Branko’s human counterparts at the ceremony underwent decidedly different training, including a battery of background, written, physical and tactical exams.

The officers have received degrees in psychology, criminal justice, studio arts, administrative justice and sociology of law, criminology and deviance.

Wessel, a Burbank native, has dreams of becoming a training officer and sergeant. He worked two jobs before joining Glendale police.

Brand, an active member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, was the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department “Explorer of the Year” in 2008. He was a protection officer for a security company prior to entering the police department.

“This is what I have wanted to be ever since I was a little kid playing ‘Cops and Robbers,’ and it never forgot me and it never will,” he said.

Mena was raised in Minnesota, but his father was a former Glendale police officer in the late 1980s before moving to join the Bloomington Police Department.

Mena hopes to become a police-dog handler and member of the Special Weapons and Tactics team.

Torley, whose father is reserve police captain for Glendale police, also shares Mena’s interest in becoming a police dog handler.

He was also selected as the recruits’ honorary class president.

Soriano, who was born in Mexico City, plans to split his time between his jobs as a full-time machinist in Burbank and a Glendale police reserve officer.

“I am hoping that I won’t let nobody down because doing the profession of law enforcement is something I have been looking forward to for many years,” he said.

Follow Veronica on Google+ and Twitter: @VeronicaRochaLA.

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