July 12--SYKESVILLE -- Maryland State Police have a new tool to provide security at high-traffic, high-profile events with four new K-9 teams qualified to detect explosives carried by a person through a crowd.
The person-borne explosive detection dogs are designed to follow potential suicide bombers or identify packages containing explosives before they are abandoned, according to Don Roberts, program manager for the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate.
The Maryland State Police is the first state police agency to have K-9 teams with this ability, according to Roberts.
"The most mobile explosive detection device is a K-9," Roberts said.
The four Labrador Retrievers and their state trooper handlers trained for 12 weeks, according to Sgt. Scott Scala, of the Maryland State Police Special Operations Division and one of the trainees. Scala trained with his K-9 partner, Jase.
Scala said the dogs were trained in basic explosive detection, such as searching buildings, luggage and stationary subjects before the subjects began moving. The dogs then trained in larger areas with larger groups of people.
"It's very repetitive," Scala said. "When you work with dogs, that's the key."
After the graduation Friday, Scala and Jase demonstrated their training by scanning a group of more than one dozen individuals walking by, one of whom carried a training aid, and Jase alerted by trailing that person with Scala in tow.
Scala has been a K-9 officer for more that 15 years and said that the new kind of training was an interesting challenge.
"To me, it was just a blast," he said.
The dogs used were trained with explosive odors already, Scala said, so the training involved search methods.
"This adds another avenue," he said. "It's just like getting a new piece of equipment."
Homeland Security's research and development division partners with law enforcement agencies when they implement new programs such as the new K-9 units so that they can monitor the programs and collect data, according to Roberts.
The goal of the Science and Technology Directorate is to understand how the program works and the circumstances where it can be most useful, Robert said.
Homeland Security is not involved in the training but serves in an informational capacity to law enforcement agencies who express interest, he said.
The Maryland State Police envision making the most use of these new teams at large sporting events such as Ravens and Orioles games, and high-profile events such as Sailabration in downtown Baltimore, according to Scala.
Roberts said the dogs are also useful in mass transit where the only method of explosive detection is K-9 units because there are no secutity checkpoints, such as the metro or bus stations.
Also graduating were Sgt. Joe Catalano and his partner, Chaly, also of the Special Operations Division; Trooper Adam Thomas and Turbo, of the Frederick barrack; and Trooper Justin Fohs and Jill, of the Glen Burnie barrack, according to state police spokesman Greg Shipley.
The teams will work out of their respective units and barracks but can be pulled to assist with large events, Shipley said.
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Copyright 2014 - Carroll County Times, Westminster, Md.