San Francisco, CA – The San Francisco Police Department’s recent handling of a police K9’s retirement has resulted in community outrage.
San Francisco Officer Val Kirwan and K9 Baro had lived and worked together for a little over two years, and expected to retire together on Friday, he told Blue Lives Matter.
Officer Kirwan, a 22-year-veteran of the force, said that, weeks in advance, he completed the necessary consultations and paperwork that would allow K9 Baro to stay with him after their retirements, and had even received verbal consent from department administrators.
The documents needed just one more signature – that of San Francisco Airport Bureau Deputy Chief Denise Schmitt – to complete the standard process, he said.
“The paperwork languished on her desk,” Officer Kirwan told Blue Lives Matter. “We have retired a couple dozen dogs over the years, and this is the first time this has ever happened.”
Officer Kirwan said he believes the chief purposefully held off on signing the documents until the day after he retired – an act that forced him to surrender K9 Baro to the San Bruno Pet Hospital for boarding.
“She knew he would be in the kennel,” Officer Kirwan told Blue Lives Matter. “She made it a personal thing because of past union issues, but to take it out on the dog?”
"He's been part of my life 24/7,” he explained to KGO. “I go to work with him every day. When we're not at work he's around the house. Wherever I go he's with me.”
Chief Schmitt, who has since retired from the department, disputed Officer Kirwan's claims that she had intentionally kept K9 Baro from retiring with his handler.
"His timeline is inaccurate," Chief Schmitt told Blue Lives Matter on Monday afternoon. "It is a process and it took longer than what Val allowed for."
She agreed that Officer Kirwan submitted the appropriate applications, but she said that she was forced to return the application for clarification on a medical evaluation.
"It took two or three days to get that clarification back," she continued. "When I received it, I signed it."
When Blue Lives Matter asked Chief Schmitt how long she was in possession of the paperwork before she sent it back for clarification, her answer was unclear.
"I have no idea," she said. "But it wasn't weeks."
In addition to being torn away from his partner, Officer Kirwan’s status as a retired officer – who was no longer an active member of the force – prevented kennel staff from legally being able to allow contact between him and K9 Baro, he said.
The staff members were not at fault for the separation and were only doing what was mandated, Officer Kirwan added.
“They’re brilliant,” he explained. “I told them to give him whatever he wants – extra walks, extra treats – and they have done that.”
Officer Kirwan initially feared that K9 Baro would be sent back to the Texas Air Force Base to be reassigned, despite a veterinarian’s recommendation that he be retired, KGO reported.
He immediately began fighting for K9 Baro’s release, and was strongly supported by members of the community and the San Francisco Police Officers Association.
“It went viral,” he told Blue Lives Matter. “The department immediately began getting calls, texts… it is all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…”
On Monday, Officer Kirwan finally received good news. K9 Baro is supposed to be returned to him late Monday afternoon.
“Thanks to the social media and outpouring of support and the outrage this has caused, the paperwork has been submitted and is being processed in Washington D.C. as we speak,” he told Blue Lives Matter.
Officer Kirwan credits Transportation Security Administration Field K9 Coordinator Kelly Lewis for her work in expediting the documents through the final channels of approval, and said he was looking forward to be reunited with K9 Baro.
“It’s going to be big,” the excited officer said of K9 Baro’s homecoming celebration. “Baro is going to go out in style.”
He held off on disclosing just what he had planned for his partner’s return, but said he intends to post videos of the event on the San Francisco Police Officers Association’s Facebook page.
“If it wasn’t for social media and for everyone’s support, this might not have happened, or at least might not have happened as soon,” Officer Kirwan told Blue Lives Matter.
San Francisco Public Information Officer Robert Rueca confirmed that the necessary paperwork had been submitted as of Monday afternoon, and said it was "being processed as quickly as possible.”