• July 23, 2019

K-9 officer recognized as officer of the year - Odessa American: Law Enforcement

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K-9 officer recognized as officer of the year

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Posted: Tuesday, July 9, 2019 11:13 am

Upchurch, who has been with the ECISD police for nearly six years, was recently awarded Officer of the Year and recognized by the ECISD board of trustees for his efforts and those of his partner, Diesel, a 7 1/2-year-old Dutch shepherd. He was with the Odessa Police Department for two years previously.

Stationed at Odessa High School, Upchurch serves about five campuses on the west side of town on a daily basis.

“It was a shock,” Upchurch said of winning the award. “I try to be as proactive as I can every day. Even though I got this, it’s not going to change the way I work. I’m going to be as proactive as I can, but it was (a) very nice, very nice little incentive. It made me feel appreciated. I love this department and that just made things even better just to feel even more appreciated by the family I work with.”

Chief Todd Hiner and Lt. Jeff Daniels agree that Upchurch is a proactive officer who is always willing to help out wherever he’s needed.

“He’s a valuable asset to ECISD students and staff and works hard to provide a safe and secure learning environment for them,” Daniels said in a text message.

Daniels added that Upchurch gets along with everyone and his peers selected him as officer of the year.

“Officer Upchurch is well deserving of the award,” Hiner said in an email. “He works passionately at his job while maintaining a calm demeanor that defines the definition of ‘Peace Officer.’ He is a true asset to the ECISD Police Department and has brought a high level of detection and deterrence to our K-9 Unit.”

A native of Balmorhea, Upchurch’s father is retired from Immigration and Customs Enforcement after 27 years and his brother is an Upton County deputy. Upchurch said law enforcement was all he knew.

“My dad’s a role model. I look up to him. It was something I wanted to pursue just because I wanted to be like him; be successful,” Upchurch said.

There are currently four officers stationed at OHS, including himself. A fourth officer was added last year. However, sometimes the officers are still run ragged.

The start of school is a busy time. Things calm down in December and then it picks up again around spring break toward the end of the school year.

“They start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel …,” Upchurch said. “That’s usually when they start acting a little bit crazy.”

Along with enjoying the tight-knit group that makes up the ECISD Police Department, Upchurch said he likes dealing with young people.

“I like trying to make an impact on them, especially being younger, trying to see if I can get them on that path. … I try to see if I can make an impact starting early trying to get them on the right path in life. … Unfortunately, it may come down to an arrest, but I have a lot of kids I deal with that I’ve arrested that turn their life around,” Upchurch said.

He said they sometimes come back and thank him for what he did.

Diesel goes home with Upchurch every day and stays with him pretty much 24-7.

“If I’m there at the school and stuff, he stays in my unit or I have a kennel in my office if I’m going to be in my office for an extended period of time doing an investigation or something. I can bring him in my office let him chill in there for a little bit, get a little change of scenery from my unit. He goes home with me; stays with me; he’s my partner for going on about five years now,” Upchurch said.

When Diesel retires, he’ll keep him at home along with his other work dogs.

Diesel is apt at tracking and narcotics detection, among other things.

“He’s pretty much a well-rounded dog. He came from Holland. There’s actually a company we use out of San Antonio called Hill Country Dog Center. Most of the time they get their dogs from either Holland or Mexico. He came straight from Holland with a passport and everything. Then he went to San Antonio from there. They started some basic training with him. Shortly after that, we went down and picked him out. Then I went down there for about a month getting certified as a handler with him,” he said.

“The first couple of weeks I was kind of nervous because you don’t know how he’s going to act with you,” Upchurch added. “He’s a new dog, a new handler. … You kind of wonder how they’re going to react to you. We have a good connection now.”

Diesel is deployed four or five times a day, but he has down time if there are investigations that don’t require him, Upchurch said.

There is another K-9 officer stationed at Permian High School that serves the east side campuses.

With summer school, Upchurch and Diesel stay busy, but they also have time to catch up on training. By federal mandate, the dogs have to have 16 hours a month of training.

“But in the summer we try to extend that out. We try to do anywhere from 20, 24 hours. We try to get them exceeded on certain things they may be lacking on. We try to do a lot more tracking, article searches; things like that, just to get them a little more proficient in certain things,” Upchurch said.

There are always new things to train the K-9s on because narcotics are always mixed differently.

“The big deal especially in the schools right now is the THC vape pens; the little cartridges they use for vapes. That’s pure THC oil. That’s been a big thing we’ve had to really start training on, even though it’s an associated scent with marijuana. It’s just such a stronger scent, such a different, the way it’s packaged and carried. … It’s something we have to train them with, kind of get them used to it …,” Upchurch said.

Most of the THC oil coming in is from Colorado where it’s legal.

“A lot of kids think it’s the same as being in possession of a little bit of marijuana when in fact it’s automatic felony no matter how much they have,” Upchurch said.

Upchurch and his wife, Kelby, have a 4-month-old son, Wyatt.

Odessa, TX

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