April 21, 2013

Two Bomb-Sniffing Dogs Join Cornell University Police Department

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Bombings throughout the country have  prompted police to be more vigilant about explosive devices. Now, two bomb-sniffing canines are helping the Cornell University Police Department protect the University against possible future threats.

Rogue, a black labrador retriever handled by Officer Kyle Hollenbeck, was adopted from the K-9’s Representing Alternative Modern Educational Resources –– a program through which the Sheriff’s Department, schools, community agencies and dogs work to support students and family’s needs, according to their website.

Chase, a yellow labrador retriever handled by Officer Justin Haines, was adopted from a home in Freeville.

Both dogs joined CUPD on March 5. Rogue, Chase and their handlers search University venues for explosives prior to high-profile events. They are also used to assess suspicious packages on Cornell’s campus and in the neighboring counties upon request of another police agency, according to a CUPD press release.

Lt. Jeffrey Montesano, one of the dog trainers and a former dog handler who oversees the canine unit, said there has been a “more heightened alert” to explosive devices after the Boston Marathon Bombings on April 15, which killed three people and injured more than 180 people.

“I see the dogs almost every day. I’m in contact with [the handlers], especially since the Boston tragedies, and I brief them on intelligence,” he said.

Both dogs were trained by members of the Cornell Police at various locations on  campus to familiarize them with their surroundings and to let them practice detecting explosives. They were certified by the state of New York at the beginning of March, according to Montesano.

The dogs, whose job is to search for and detect explosive devices, underwent 240 hours of training to earn their certificates and continue to train 16 hours a week, according to Montesano.

“We try to put them into different scenarios … and expose them to all [situations],” Montesano said.

Some scenarios the dogs are exposed to include an office search and a building search with explosives hidden in multiple rooms, according to Montesano. The dogs are trained to search people, backpacks and garbage cans, he said, adding that they were also taken to airports and onto airplanes as part of their training.

Although Rogue and Chase have not yet been deployed on any bomb threats, the dogs were used when the President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, spoke at Cornell, and will be used at future events such as Convocation and Commencement as an “added layer of security,” according to Montesano.

As the third and fourth explosive detection canines to service the University, Rogue and Chase’s presence is more relevant than ever, taking into account concerns about increasing violence on university campuses and the use of explosive devices, according to Montesano.

Montesano believes that having dogs certified in explosive detection has become more common in past years after terrorism incidents such as the Sept. 11 attacks.

“When we first started the canine program in 2001, people raised eyebrows as to why the University needs dogs that search for explosives. Then Sept. 11 came, and everyone was grateful that we had the resources to protect our infrastructure,” he said.

Chase and Rogue are replacing two CUPD dogs, Sabre and Reggie, who are now both retired.

The adoption of the new dogs was met with the appointment of new handlers as well. Haines and Hollenbeck were selected from four candidates for demonstrating self-motivation, personal direction and responsibility, according to Montesano. The handlers live with the dogs full-time so they can build relationships with the animals.

“We call it a team because they depend on one another; it’s not just the canine that does all the work,” Montesano said.

Training and equipment costs were funded by a $47,000 grant from the New York State Department of Homeland Security. The grant is part of a regional partnership with several of the surrounding counties including Tompkins, Broome, Schuyler and Chemung counties. The dogs may be deployed in those counties in the case of a bomb threat or other threats, according to Montesano.

“There are plenty of challenges ahead of us in this world. Both dogs and their handlers are up to the task,” Montesano said.

Original Author: Danielle Sochaczevski