Faces in the Crowd – Officer Tom Francisco & K9 Officer Brewster

August 30, 2018

By Gene Bodnar
Correspondent

On three different occasions, I tried to enter the offices of the Clare Police Department but failed on the first two attempts.  There is a telephone outside the entry door to contact the personnel within the building, but it is used only for emergencies, and I did not consider an interview to be an emergency.  On my third try, I went to the next-door Fire Department, told a Fireman what I wanted to do, and he led me directly to the very officer I wanted to interview:  Officer Tom Francisco.  We scheduled an interview a few days later.

Officer Thomas Francisco was born in 1986 in Alma.  He attended the Alma Public School system, graduating in 2004.

Tom has been married for nine years to his wife, Brooke, and they have two children — a daughter, Tori, who is 10 years old, and one son, Trent, who is 8.  Tom has one brother.

Officer Tom Francisco and K-9 Officer Brewster

Officer Tom Francisco and K-9 Officer Brewster

While Tom was still in high school (and for the next four years), he worked at a Citco gas station – the old-fashioned kind of place that pumped your gas for you, checked your oil, and cleaned your windshield.  He also worked in their mechanics shop, where he eventually became a Certified Mechanic.
Meanwhile, during this same period, Tom attended Mid-Michigan College for three years, taking day and night school classes, where he attained an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice.

For his next career step Tom attended the Police Academy at Delta College, completing a 17-week training program that is approved by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.  The program consists of training in a vast array of police topics, including Federal laws, child abduction, computer crimes, auto theft, gangs, narcotics, pepper spray, motor carrier laws, K-9 use in police work, and the list goes on to cover every imaginable topic encountered by police officers.  After completing 594 hours of mandated instruction, Tom then passed a rigorous State examination in order to be eligible for certification as law enforcement officers in Michigan.

After attaining his certification, Tom worked in the Sheriff’s Department in Harrison for the next six years.  Here, he worked at a variety of different jobs, including marine patrol, prisoner transports, road patrol, as well as other functions.

In 2013, Tom began working as a Police Office for the Clare Police Department.  A year later, he responded to a posting he saw for working with a K-9 Police Officer.  The applicant obviously had to be good with animals, have a great amount of agility, make smart decisions for himself as well as for his animal, and be willing to go through an intensive training program with the animal.  Tom fit the bill and was hired.  At this point, Tom met his partner, K-9 Officer Brewster.

Brewster was born in the Czech Republic in 2012.  I asked why not train an American-born dog.  Tom pointed out that the Czech Republic animals are especially bred to be top-quality police animals.  Tom also pointed out that police dogs are trained to either be “single purpose” or “dual purpose” service dogs.  Single purpose dogs are used for one purpose only, such as locating narcotics or bombs.  Dual purpose dogs are trained to do everything the single purpose dogs do, plus a wide variety of other tasks.  The reason the dogs are trained for one or the other is because the dog cannot communicate to the officer what it found, just that it found something.  Police protocol is much different in either case.  For example, if the narcotics dog indicates that it found something, the officer has reasonable suspicion to search the bag or vehicle in question without a warrant.  On the other hand, if the explosives dog indicates that it found something, the officer’s first priority would be to clear and secure the area, then proceed with bomb threat protocol.

Brewster is a dual purpose dog.  While still in the Czech Republic, Brewster was taught basic obedience, such as sit, stay, and other basic commands.  He is also taught tracking.  When Brewster came to the United States, he was sent to the Northern Michigan K-9, which is a business owned by Police Chief Brian Gregory.   Here, Brian fine-tuned Brewster’s training and taught him to detect narcotic odor.  Note that Brian can train a dog to do either drugs or bombs, depending on the needs of that specific Police Department.  After completion of his NMK9 training, Brewster was sent to the Clare Police Department.  Tom and Brewster then went through four 40-hour weeks of additional training to make both of them patrol-ready.

Tom says that Brewster has been successful at tracking, performing building searches, finding children, apprehending suspects and felons, searching for articles, and locating narcotics.  It is interesting to note that a trained sniffer dog’s nose can detect 10-year-old smells and is approximately 2,000 times more accurate than a human’s nose.

When Tom and Brewster are working together, Tom must already be a highly experienced police officer because he needs to know the operational and legal implications of what he is doing at each incident, and why.  He must be confident around Brewster, because as Tom points out, he is responsible for Brewster’s actions.  Of course, when the occasion arises, Tom must maintain a suitable level of agility and fitness because the element of running frequently arises, and at times he could be required to lift Brewster over fences in a chase, often while wearing boots and body armor.

Tom points out that Brewster is a working dog who never stops working, even when off-duty.  Brewster lives with Tom during off-duty hours, but he is always kept outdoors to keep him acclimated to the outdoor environment.  Even during the hot days of summer, Tom’s police vehicle is equipped with two separate air conditioning systems, one in the back seat for Brewster and one in the front for Tom.

At times, Tom and Brewster’s job can create somewhat amusing and definitely unnerving situations.  Some time ago, Tom was called to the scene of an accident that involved a fire and a motorcyclist.  His car was used as a road block, while Brewster remained in the back seat.  The scene accumulated many onlookers.  While working at the scene, Tom happened to notice that the rear door of his police vehicle was wide open, with no Brewster present.  Apparently, Tom had unknowingly pushed the electronic door opener in his pocket, which automatically opened the door.  Then Tom spotted Brewster nonchalantly wandering about, mingling with the crowd.  Who knows, he may have been sniffing for narcotics.  Of course, Tom hurriedly got him back into his vehicle.

Tom mentioned that he is likely to go deaf in a few years.  Any time he is on the road with Brewster, Brewster unceasingly whines and barks in the back seat.  Tom doesn’t want to discourage this behavior because it might deter him from his working qualities – the dog is ALWAYS working.

Tom and Brewster share 24 hours a day with each other.  They are work partners, family members, and best friends, all wrapped up on one package.  They share something far more than the love that people have with a pet.  The bond between the two of them is an intensely strong one.  Brewster would risk his life to protect Tom, and Tom relies heavily on Brewster’s ability to be there when he needs him.  They bond for life.  It is a fact that, when it comes time for the dog to retire, most handlers will adopt their partner as their own for life, always keeping him as a part of the police family.

In only two weeks – September 15th – is “National Tell a Police Officer ‘Thank You’ Day.”  Officer Tom Francisco and K-9 Officer Brewster make Clare a safer environment for all of its residents.  Obviously, they do things that are dangerous, but at the same time they make our little community a better place to live.  As you should for all police, tell them “Thank You.”

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