In the six months since the Boston Marathon bombings, the demand for bomb-sniffing dogs has risen sharply across the country, and here locally. The Atlantic County K9 Academy is in the process of training one of the largest classes they’ve seen in recent years, which hit the road to get real-life practice.
They are hot on the trail of becoming some of the region's newest explosive detection teams. “I don't think there's any greater tool law enforcement has than the K9 dog,” said Joe Rodriguez, Supervising trainer for the Atlantic County “John Sonny Burke” K9 Academy. It's a tool that has come into high demand in the six months following the Boston Marathon bombings. The academy is seeing more enrollments in their specialized scent class. “One of the largest ones we've had in years,” said Rodriguez of the current, “we have 18 handlers, new handlers in. That's probably double, sometimes triple, what we usually have here.”
“She's our first, it's a brand new unit for us,” said Julie Wesley, an Officer with The University of Pennsylvania Police Department of her K9 partner, Socks, “we host a lot of large scale events at the university, so it just eliminates the need for us to go to outside agencies to do sweeps of our buildings.”
Now halfway through their 14-weeks of training, the teams were out in public practicing what they've learned, searching the Atlantic City Boardwalk and Boardwalk Hall for planted bombs. “We like to train in real life situations and real life places where everybody goes.”
This type of environmental training is vital for the teams, especially the dogs, so they can familiarize themselves with these areas. Before the Miss America Pageant, K9 teams were out in that area two months in advance preparing. “Where ever we're going to be, we get them used to the escalators, the elevators, the tunnels and everything they're gonna encounter,” explained Rodriguez, “we try to do that in training so there's no problems when they go real world.”
Besides this being one of the largest scent classes for the academy, this is also the most amount of female officers to go through at once. “It's been wonderful experience,” said Tonya Perednas, an officer with the Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office, “all of us females have really learned a lot with our partners, we blend right in with the rest of the guys in class.”
“Its our first time that we have had four female officers in the class, but we have one standard and they meet that standard, just like everybody else,” said Rodriguez, “and we have one goal, and that's to protect the public.”
In 2010 the Pentagon spent $19 billion and 6 years researching high-tech bomb detection systems, but ultimately concluded dogs are still the most effective.