New K9 Units Join Arlington Force


(Friday, March 23, 2007 6:56 AM EDT)

Two Labrador retrievers have made the grade and are among the newest recruits of the Arlington County Police Department.

As part of an expansion of its K-9 program, the department has adopted the duo - 19-month-old Jack and 17-month old Koda - and is training them for bomb-detection duties.

The dogs were rescued from a pet rescue Web site and an animal shelter. They were too much to handle for their previous owners.

“Some dogs need to go to work,” said Police Capt. Kevin Reardon, who was instrumental in the K-9 expansion. “Going to work every day with a handler is what they need.”

The dogs came at no cost, and their handlers work in other units of the department, meaning no new K-9 officers have to be hired to train the dogs.

“I think we've greatly increased our capabilities in the area of explosive detection in Arlington at a minimal cost,” Reardon said.

To qualify for training, the two male dogs had to pass a series of tests measuring their levels of “ball drive” and “retrieve drive.” They also had to meet physical standards.

Koda has been training with Officer Brian Morrison, and Jack with Officer Chris Martin, four days a week since mid-January. They are set to become certified by the U.S. Police Canine Association in early April.

Once certified, Koda and Jack will work when there are specific bomb threats; during times of heightened security levels; or when they have to perform bomb sweeps at events such as the Marine Corps Marathon.

The dogs will be with their handling officers at all times, but Morrison and Martin will perform their regular policing duties the majority their workdays.

“It's a great life for a dog,” Martin said. “He's with me 24/7 instead of sitting at home.”

Koda and Jack have been “imprinted” with the scent of more than 20 explosives, including TNT, C-4 and dynamite.

“We teach them different search patterns,” Morrison said. “And we try to expose them to certain situations.”

Koda and Jack are considered “single-purpose dogs,” because they willl only be used for explosive detection. Dual-purpose dogs are patrol dogs that have been cross-trained in drug or bomb detection.

The dogs are trained through a reward system. When they perform a task successfully, their handlers either play with them or give them food (Koda loves playing with his tennis ball, while Jack prefers doggie treats).

Unlike drug-detection dogs, which bark and paw when they find illicit substances, bomb-sniffing dogs are trained to sit still when they detect explosives. This “passive alert” is considered safer, as there is less likelihood that the dog's movements will trigger an unexpected detonation.

“We're trying to use them as a tool,” said Martin. “But you only hope that bomb dogs will never have to sit down in their career.”

Caring for a K-9 is a significant commitment, one that requires a lot of time and the cooperation of handlers' families. But working with Koda and Jack has been a positive experience for Martin and Morrsion, especially because the dogs make them more approachable as police officers.

“Riding with a dog all day can help with other parts of the job,” Martin said. “Jack is a real conversation-starter.”

Officer Brian Morrison and Koda are joined by Officer Chris Martin and Jack in a photo. The teams have been training four days a week since mid-January.
(Photo by Kristen Armstrong)

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