New canine handler Cpl. Roman Sones pats Black, the Columbus Police Department's newest canine officer. Black is a 5-year-old German shepherd brought from Afghanistan to join CPD's force. He and Sones met last week and began training this week. Photo by: Chris Jenkins/Special to The Dispatch
Dog trainer Richard Dye walks Black, Columbus Police Department's new explosive-detecting canine officer, through a bomb-finding demonstration. A year ago, Black was working in Afghanistan finding bombs on vehicles. When he finds an explosive, he sits beside the vehicle, alerting his handler and other law enforcement.
Photo by: Chris Jenkins/Special to The Dispatch
December 7, 2018 10:35:22 AM
The first time Columbus police officer Cpl. Roman Sones rode in the car with his new partner, the partner stuck his head out from the back seat and licked Sones on the back of the ear.
That partner is "Black," a solid black 5-year-old German shepherd specially trained to sniff out explosives. Newly arrived from Afghanistan where he detected vehicle bombs, he's the latest addition to Columbus Police Department -- and, Sones has learned, he loves riding in the car.
"He's got a very high toy drive and his energy level is just insane," said Sones, who picked up Black from Atlanta last week and has taken him home.
"He shows a strong desire to work," Sones added later. "If you motivate him correctly, he'll do anything you ask him to."
Black is one of two canine officers that CPD keeps on the force -- the other a Belgian Malinois named Stanley who detects illegal drugs. Both dogs were trained and procured by Richard Dye, a former CPD officer and reserve officer with Lowndes County Sheriff's Office. Dye got his law enforcement start as a handler for canine officers and now spends several months out of the year training and handling dogs for the U.S. Department of State in Afghanistan -- including Black and his twin brother, Brutus.
"(Black's) had several successful finds as far as different explosives in vehicles and baggage that was trying to be snuck into different Afghan government facilities," Dye said.
Black came to CPD through a federal program that places working dogs with jobs and homes in the United States, Dye said, because they wouldn't be properly cared for in Afghanistan after retiring. It cost about $8,000 to bring Black back to the United States -- none of which CPD paid.
Now Sones and Black will go through several weeks of training for Black to be CPD's first explosive detecting dog.
"The dog's already trained," Dye said. "We've just got to tighten him up because he's had about eight months off. The main thing is going to be the handler learning exactly what he needs to do."
Training and detection
Black is trained particularly to detect large explosives, Dye said -- bombs instead of bullets.
When looking for a dog like Black to train to detect explosives or drugs, Dye said he looks for dogs that like finding toys. He'll train them with a particular toy, hiding it in more and more obscure places and making sure the dog can find it.
"Basically, he'll do anything to get that toy," Dye said.
He adds a particular scent to the toy so that the dog becomes used to finding that scent. Eventually, he said, trainers can take the toy away and the dogs can find the particular scent they've become accustomed to -- drugs or explosives but never both.
Black alerts his handler to explosives by sitting beside the vehicle where he detects them. But Dye said as the handler gets used to a dog, the handler should be able to note changes in behavior that indicate the dog has detected a scent coming.
"There's a whole change in the way they wag their tail, the way they're breathing, their body posture, things like that," Dye said. "A lot of times what we'll do, if we're working at a check point in Afghanistan, and a vehicle rolls up and it's got 5-600 pounds of explosives in it, the dog's going to smell it, depending on which way the wind's blowing, probably before he even gets close to the vehicle. And if you see that change in behavior, you already know you've got a problem.
"I don't want him to actually go up to the car and sit. I'm already gone," he added. "I know there's something there and I've got to go and the EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team will come in and they'll take care of that."
Black will have a much smaller workload at CPD than he did in Afghanistan, Dye said, meaning the department should get four to five years of work out of him.
CPD Chief Fred Shelton said this is the first time the department's deployed two canine officers at once, and that the addition of Black makes it possible for CPD to provide faster service.
"This will help us provide better service to the community ... if we had a bomb threat or something of that nature," he said. "We'd be able to have immediate access to have a dog to come and to check the scene and see if we have an actual device."
Hopefully, Shelton added laughing, the department won't need Black any time soon.
Dye added if Black shows aptitude for tracking, they'll add that to his training.
Sones began training with Black this week. It's the four-year officer's first time handling a canine officer. Meeting Black was intimidating, he said -- he'd never been in a small vehicle for three hours with an 88-pound predator before -- but said from the beginning, Black has been great.
"It's going to be a big responsibility and a big challenge for me to do," he said. "I'm looking forward to trying."
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