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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cop school: the K9 corps

MPO Harford and Scout
The K9 corps plays a key unit of the Fairfax County Police Department, tracking suspects, victims, evidence, and lost children, Master Police Officer Rob Harford told participants at a recent session of the Fairfax County Citizens’ Police Academy.

Harford works with Scout, a black German Shepherd, who can track human odors on pavement, as well as grass, and can detect seven types of illegal drugs.

Scout is one of 13 dogs in the K9 corps, which includes two bloodhounds. Harford calls Scout a “light switch dog,” which means he will bite and hold a suspect if commanded to do so. He’s also a “ball reward dog.” After he accomplishes a task, Scout gets to play with a ball. According to Harford, Scout is motivated by love and play, rather than food, like the dogs in the bomb unit.

A few weeks ago, the pair worked on a daytime stabbing case in Fair Oaks. Scout found the victim by tracking the blood dripping from a severe head wound, then found the bad guy with the evidence—a stolen wallet and narcotics.

In another recent incident, Scout tracked down and sneaked up on a guy who was armed and was threatening to kill himself. The guy tried to fight, but Scout was able to subdue him. “The dog allows us to be so much safer, instead of going blindly into the woods,” Harford says.

The K9s go through a 14-week training process, working with a handler 10 hours a day. After that, the training continues for one or two hours a day for a month. Scout was born in Hungary and was purchased for $4,700 five years ago. After the training, he’s worth about $8,000, Harford says.

It’s amazing how these dogs can distinguish their prey among a crowd of people. For example, there was an incident involving a suspect who beat up a man at a McDonald’s, stole his laptop, and ran out the door. Scout trailed the guy down the street and found him minutes later trying to hide.

Once the dogs latch onto a scent, they go really fast, pulling their handler through the woods, Harford says. To work with the K9s, police officers have to master an obstacle course, have an excellent shooting score, and throw an 80-pound log over a fence.

The dogs live with their handler’s family when not working. Food for the K9s is donated by Royal Canin, which is owned by Mars Inc., the McLean-based candy company. The K9 corps is based at the Operations Support Bureau on Woodburn Road in Annandale, along with the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit and the SWAT team.

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