NAMI starts her day like any other police officer: she straps on her vest, buckles her badge and goes to work at the station. The most significant difference between NAMI and the other officers is that she is a 1-year-old Labrador-mix, but her job is just as important. NAMI is a mental health support K9 for the Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD). The Courier visited NAMI at work, where she patrols the station, providing comfort and motivation to coworkers with her large, expressive eyes and floppy ears.
At the end of September, NAMI traveled to Garden Grove for the West Coast Support Canine Conference and Certification Seminar hosted by the Garden Grove Police Department and Guide Dogs of the Desert. As part of the four-day conference, NAMI successfully completed a number of tasks that involved crisis intervention, witness and victim interview scenarios and outdoor field work.
During the seminar, NAMI was tested in scenarios she had never encountered. She was asked to sit and stay by herself for three minutes; she went to Knott’s Berry Farm and had to ignore the simulated shooting; and she visited an elementary classroom to support children who had just lost a classmate. “They were pretty emotional, and she was very, very comforting and attentive to them,” said BHPD Executive Assistant Lisa Karson. “She was basically put to the test, and she did exceptionally well.”
NAMI not only passed the assessments, but she also earned top awards in the process. She is now a recognized American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen, Community Canine and Urban Canine Good Citizen.
NAMI stands for National Alliance on Mental Illness, and she has been working with BHPD for two months. Before joining the team, she was learning to become a guide dog, but eventually switched career paths. She continued her training at Webb’s K9 Training in Cherry Valley, where she was introduced to BHPD, adopted and taken to Beverly Hills. Since then, BHPD has fallen head over heels for the newest member of their K9 family. “We met her, and we were like ‘wow,’ she just stole our hearts,” Karson told the Courier. “Everyone feels better around her. She makes everyone smile. She’s always in a good mood and she’s just such a sweetheart.”
NAMI’s responsibilities differ significantly from those of the other K9s in Beverly Hills. She doesn’t sniff out narcotics or tackle criminals. NAMI’s job is to protect the mental well-being of the BHPD station, as well as any other station or event she is scheduled to visit. Her average day on duty includes putting her head on people’s laps, giving the occasional licks and mainly being around when comfort is needed. She is the first of her kind in Beverly Hills, but it has been a rewarding transition for the station. “We’ve had working dogs at the station, but never a comforting support dog,” BHPD Public Information Officer Lt. Giovanni Trejo told the Courier. “We are human, and we go through the same stress and the same exhaustion that everyone goes through at work or daily life. I can speak for the department, after almost 17 years of being here, that this is one way that we have not approached [mental health] in the past. It’s definitely something new that so far, in these past two months, has been working.”
BHPD is understandably proud of what NAMI has accomplished so far. The department is excited to see how she will continue to benefit the station, as well as influence other stations to seek similar mental health reinforcements. “It’s a concept that’s spreading industry wide. We’ve had a lot of visitors from other agencies or partners around the vicinity here that have expressed interest in exploring this option,” said Lt. Trejo. “I have pets and they’re family members, so I think it’s a great option.”