Law enforcement, K-9 partners get bomb detection training

Evan James Carter
The Detroit News

Romulus — K-9 officer Wolverine trotted along a row of luggage, briefly sniffing each piece before moving along.

The German shorthaired pointer appeared eager to get to work Wednesday at a training section on the grounds of Metro Airport, growing excited when he passed a light-brown bag, digging his nose in and wagging his tail before lying down next to it. 

Wayne State University police officer Greg Roberts and his dog Wolverine conduct a search through a training tower looking for booby traps and explosives during canine training exercises.

Wolverine had identified the luggage containing the test explosive. His reward: a well deserved blue and green ball.

In the real world, Wolverine might have just stopped a bombing or terrorist attack. But for now, it's just like play.

"You've got to get a dog that has extremely high drive," said handler Greg Roberts, an officer with Wayne State University, with whom Wolverine lives when he's not on duty. "You always want the dogs to use their nose and not their eyes." 

Wolverine was one of dozens of eager K-9 officers and their handlers practicing in the hot temperatures while completing bomb detection training exercises at the airport.

The handlers worked with their K-9s while the dogs sniffed out bombs, which were not rigged to explode, avoided hidden dangers, like trip wires and booby traps, and ignored distracting smells, like what might waft from a dirty diaper in a crowed airplane compartment.      

The exercises keep Wolverine and the other dogs sharp. Wolverine, though, has had plenty of experience in the field. 

Wolverine was originally assigned to WSU police K-9 handler Collin Rose, who was killed in the line of duty in November 2016. In the time  he's worked with Wolvering, Roberts said he has gotten used to his mannerisms.

"When I got (Wolverine), he knew everything there was to know about odors," Roberts said. Roberts said it took him about a year to know the exact behavior the K-9 displays when smelling an explosive odor.

"Every time that you receive a dog that's had a different handler, you have to break old habits ... We pretty much have gotten to the point where it's not an issue when we work together."

More than 55 K-9 teams from different law enforcement agencies throughout Michigan, as well as Ohio and Indiana participated in the training exercises at the Wayne County Airport Authority's Public Safety Training Facility.

The event, in its second year, allows handlers and their four-legged partners to experience high-stakes situations without the danger, such as searching for a bomb in a room full of luggage. The teams also conducted exercises in the passenger compartment or the cargo hold of an airplane.

Ed Fore, a canine handler with the Department of Homeland Security Federal Protective Service, attended the training event with his partner Ember, who also goes home with Fore.

Fore and the chocolate Labrador retriever regularly conduct proactive explosives searches at the McNamara Federal Building and federal courthouse in Detroit. Fore said that the explosive detection training would allow him to assist another law enforcement agency, such as the Transportation Security Agency, if a crisis occurred.

Once the explosive is uncovered, officers will use a robot to neutralize it, said Roberts, but when it comes to sniffing them out, nothing beats the sensitivity of a dog's nose.

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