Taking a bite out of crime

Joan Concilio |

This 2003 article for the York Daily Record was one of my favorites to report – because I got to put on the bite suit and be “attacked” by Quita, a new police dog.

Originally published Sept. 15, 2003, in the York Daily Record.

By Joan Concilio, Daily Record staff

About a year ago, York County got a new weapon in its fight against crime and potential terrorism. And for a weapon, she can look deceptively friendly.

But those who work with Quita, Southern Regional Police Department’s bomb-sniffing and patrol dog, warn that she can be anything but. Some bear the bruises and bite-marks to prove it.

As the county’s only police dog trained to detect explosives, she and her handler, Southern Regional Police Chief Jim Childs, work with several different school districts and police departments. They’re part of the first-response team called in when someone suspects they’ve found a bomb or another explosive device.

That sharing of the bomb dog’s services was a stipulation of Art Glatfelter, the founder of Glatfelter Insurance Group and one of the main sources of funding for Southern Regional’s purchase of Quita.

So far, Childs and Quita have been on 20 searches in York County – two in Southern Regional’s coverage area, the rest elsewhere. They haven’t found any explosive material yet.

The department bought Quita, a Belgian Malinois dog, from Belgium about a year ago, Childs said. And rather than buying a pre-trained bomb dog, the department and Childs handled much of Quita’s advanced training. From October through April, Childs and Quita worked at the Baltimore City Police K-9 Training Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week.

After completing her initial training, Quita was certified in both bomb detection and patrol work.

And like many police officers, she’s continued her training.

Routinely, Southern Regional’s bomb dog and two drug dogs receive some specialized training. For three days last week, trainers from Tarheel Canine in North Carolina and Capital Cities K-9 in Pasadena, Md., came up to work with Southern Regional’s dogs and their handlers. One of York Area Regional Police Department’s drug dogs, Dax, and his handler, Officer Ken Schollenberger, also participated in the training.

Bradshaw and one of his employees, Eddie Donovan, as well as Joe Morris, the owner of Capital Cities K-9, worked with Childs, Schollenberger, and Southern Regional’s other two K-9 officers, Charles Stahm and Sean Siggins. In each drill, one of the officers donned the heavy “bite suit,” a thick layer of protection against the dog’s teeth, and pretended to be a suspect. Then, a dog-and-handler team role-played the capture of the suspect.

The room in the abandoned New Freedom warehouse filled with noise, as the “suspect” played along, fighting against the dog, yelling, even throwing things at the animal. The handlers shouted praise to the dogs as they followed their commands.

“Good girl, Quita!” Childs yelled as his dog attacked the suspect. Then, in Dutch, he gave Quita an “out” command, telling her to stop attacking. Since many police dogs are from Europe, they often accept voice commands only in other languages, such as Dutch or Hungarian. That means the handler has to learn another language, but it also provides some extra security, said Southern Regional Police Lt. James Boddington.

“Anyone who knows about commands, they might try to out the dog” by yelling in English if they were under attack, Boddington said. The Dutch commands used by Southern Regional and the Hungarian used by York Area Regional’s Schollenberger help to keep that from working.

Bradshaw said the in-service training provides a lot of specific skills that the departments can work on during routine training. It also gives the handlers a feel for the various simulations that can be run with the dogs.

“They train for what they’re really going to see on the street,” Childs said.

During their training and patrolling, the handlers and dogs become close, Boddington said. Southern Regional’s dogs live with their handlers, and go on patrol with them even when they’re not specifically on “K-9 duty.”

That makes the dogs protective of their handlers. Boddington, who is not a canine officer, said everyone in the department had to learn how to behave around the animals – including not making any sudden moves around the dogs’ handlers.

“You don’t go up to a K-9 officer and roughhouse with him,” Boddington said. “Those dogs have no sense of humor. You could end up in the emergency room.”

Certifying police dogs

Many organizations exist to help with the accreditation of working police dogs.

Southern Regional Police Department and its three dogs are members of the Pennsylvania Police K-9 Association and the North American Police Work Dog Association.

Some training and breeding organizations are members of similar agencies. For example, according to its Web site, Tarheel Canine, one of the companies working at Southern Regional’s recent training, is a member of the Protection Sports Association, the International Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association and Dogs Against Drugs / Dogs Against Crime. Capital Cities K-9, the other training company working at last week’s training, is a member of the Protection Sports Association. Capital Cities’ owner, Joe Morris, was a founder of that dog training and certification organization.

Such organizations work with their members to provide training opportunities and certification programs for police dogs and their handlers. Police dogs must pass a certification exam each year, to ensure that their skills are kept up.

Sources: Southern Regional Police Department; Tarheel Canine; Capital Cities K-9; and North American Police Work Dog Association

Dog fraud

On Sept. 8, a Hagerstown, Md., dog trainer was sentenced to 6 years in prison for providing poorly trained bomb-sniffing dogs to the U.S. government in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks and lying about the credentials of the dogs and their trainers.

At his sentencing, Russell Lee Ebersole insisted that his dogs were competent and blamed his conviction on a conspiracy of jealous competitors.

Ebersole owned a business called Detector Dogs Against Drugs and Explosives in Stephenson, Va., that provided bomb-sniffing dogs to several federal agencies after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He was convicted in June in U.S. District Court on 27 counts of fraud.

The various federal agencies paid Ebersole $700,000 for his services between September 2001 and May 2002. Ebersole’s contracts were canceled after his dogs failed independent tests on five occasions.

On one test, dogs and handlers were unable to detect 50 pounds of dynamite and 15 pounds of C-4 plastic explosives hidden at the Federal Reserve parking garage in Washington. Prosecutors also proved that Ebersole lied about the dogs’ credentials to obtain and keep the federal contracts.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema imposed the maximum punishment under federal sentencing guidelines. Brinkema said she believed Ebersole lied on the stand during the trial. She also ordered Ebersole to pay about $700,000 restitution upon his release, requiring minimum monthly payments of at least $400.

Source: The Associated Press