Six dogs make up Tulsa's canine bomb squad
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Monday, February 18, 2013
2/18/13 at 9:37 AM
Don knew exactly what he was sniffing for when he went from car to car Friday afternoon, and he knew what he'd get when he found it.
His handler, Tulsa Police Officer Duke Stinnett, took the German shepherd around the parking lot, and they eventually got to the car where Stinnett had placed an object that mimics the smell of an explosive device. Don sniffed around the car, visibly more excited. Then he sat down.
He found the device, so he got his chew toy.
Don is one of six dogs in the Explosives Detection Canine Team that patrols Tulsa International Airport. The dogs are a partnership between the Tulsa Police Department and the Transportation Security Administration.
The dogs use their keen sense of smell to inspect cargo that goes on passenger airplanes. Their skill is a vital part of the airport's security measures, and the dogs provide a benefit to people in northeast Oklahoma as one of two explosive device-detecting dog teams in the region.
"Our work there (at the airport) is entirely using canines for patrolling and examining cargo," said Sgt. Jacob Thompson, head of the Tulsa Police Department's Bomb Unit.
The dogs are owned and initially trained by the TSA, then paired with law enforcement officers on contract. There are about 800 similar teams across the country, Stinnett said.
The handlers from Tulsa go to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio for 10 weeks of training with the dogs before they can start patrols, Thompson said.
At the airport, the dogs are called upon to inspect bags and supplement other screening methods, inspect freight that comes into the secured part of the airport, inspect cars that are left unattended in loading zones and inspect bags that are left unattended in the airport.
"Despite the announcement the lady makes 15 times telling you to not do it (leave bags unattended), people still do," Thompson said.
The screening machines used by the TSA are effective, but the skills the dogs have are unmatched, he said.
"There are products man has made to simulate the abilities, but nothing works as well as the God-given gift dogs have," Thompson said.
Another crucial role of the dogs is just being a presence at the airport. On regular patrols, just having the dogs out can act as a deterrent.
Thompson said people often see the dogs and ask what they are looking for while on patrol.
"I tell people they sniff out bad thoughts," Thompson said. "That's a big part to deterrence."
Part of the contract for the dogs stipulates that they and their handlers must work at the airport at least 80 percent of the time, and Thompson said his unit works there more than that. But if they are needed to detect explosive devices elsewhere, they can respond.
The dogs have responded to threats at area courthouses and even recently at the Tulsa Jail, he said.
Tulsa was one of the first police departments to participate in the program when it started in the 1980s, Thompson said. At the time, the TSA didn't exist and the program was operated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the TSA was formed as part of the Department of Homeland Security, and it took over the National Explosives Detection Canine Program.
Their mission has expanded beyond air travel and can include any form of transportation. Therefore, the dogs can also be used at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, Thompson said.
"They're trained to smell bags and luggage - inanimate objects," Thompson said.
"Having six teams, we have a lot of capability."
The dogs go home with their handlers every day, but Stinnett said he makes sure Don doesn't become too much a family pet so that his job performance won't suffer.
"It's a fine line to have him between a pet and an employee," Stinnett said.
Original Print Headline: Canine bomb squad
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310
Tulsa Police Officer Duke Stinnett leads Don, a German shepherd, as he sniffs cars in a rental car lot during an Explosives Detection Canine Team training exercise on Friday. The team works through the Tulsa Police Department and the federal Transportation Security Administration to enhance security at Tulsa International Airport. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
A German shepherd sniffs for possible explosives in vehicles at a rental car lot near Tulsa International Airport during a training exercise Friday. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World