Police dogs sniff out certification at Aiken regionals

  • Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014 7:07 p.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, March 6, 2014 10:19 p.m.
Staff photo by Teddy Kulmala
Canine Officer Bret Neal of WSI and his four-legged partner Rony conduct an explosive-detection exercise on Thursday at the U.S. Police Canine Association’s regional certification, which is taking place around Aiken County through Saturday.
Staff photo by Teddy Kulmala Canine Officer Bret Neal of WSI and his four-legged partner Rony conduct an explosive-detection exercise on Thursday at the U.S. Police Canine Association’s regional certification, which is taking place around Aiken County through Saturday.

Give that dog a bone – or at least his rubber toy.

More than 40 police-canine teams from South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina are in Aiken this week for the U.S. Police Canine Association's Spring Detector Dog and Training Trials.

The nationwide association is a set of standards set forth in canine patrol and detection, the goal of which is to “have the same dogs on the same set of standards,” according to region president Calvin Jeffcoat.

The association has close to 3,000 members nationwide and holds regional trials each year.

The regional trials this week focus on the detection phase of certification.

Thursday's focus was explosives. Today and Saturday will focus on tracking and narcotics.

The first exercise on Thursday included a circle of about 18 paint buckets, each with a substance inside.

Six of the buckets contained nothing; six contained about 3 ounces of explosives; and six contained a distraction such as dog food or whiteout.

“It's a set of standards. The dogs have to show 100 percent proficiency on recognition of an odor,” Jeffcoat said. “They can't miss one.”

The canine must “alert” on a can with explosives in it by sitting or lying down.

If the dog alerts on the right items, he gets a rubber chew toy upon completing the exercise.

The exercise isn't timed, but others are. Outside were several vehicles parked side by side; one or two of the vehicles have a small amount of explosives hidden somewhere on it, and the dog must find it in a certain amount of time.

Other exercises throughout Thursday included locating a box containing explosives or finding explosives inside a building.

If a dog doesn't certify, he must go through training for a certain amount of time before having another opportunity to certify, Jeffcoat said.

Lt. Jake Mahoney, of Aiken Public Safety, said a canine's proficiency is critical not only in eliminating a potential danger, but also in court proceedings afterward.

“The dog's proficiency that they demonstrate here, and the team's proficiency, also carries over when those dogs are employed on the street and they make a case,” he said. “When it comes to trial, it's the certification that these folks give that gives strength to that case.”

Participants in this week's events came from the outer stretches of North Carolina and Georgia, but also close by.

The Aiken County Sheriff's Office, Aiken Department of Public Safety, Richmond County Sheriff's Office and Wackenhut Services Inc. were among those in attendance.

The Sheriff's Office has explosives-sniffing canines and bloodhound trackers, while Aiken Public Safety has narcotics-sniffing canines.

The agencies gathered in Aiken this week often work together when a call goes out; such was the case at Aiken High School last year when a threatening message was found on a bathroom wall.

Explosive detection units from Richmond and Lexington counties were dispatched to assist in searching the school.

“We couldn't do it without us coming together,” Jeffcoat said. “All of us come together as one team, and each one brings something.”

Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012.

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