Narcotic Detector Dog-Team Project
EFFECTIVE DETECTOR DOGS TRAINED FOR SMALL DEPARTMENTS
Drug traffickers are a ruthless and crafty lot, they have to be considering the nature of their business. In the face of ever increasing police enforcement and interdiction methods they are becoming even more innovative. Many drug traffickers are using rural and remote border crossings to import their wares and to escape apprehension. More often than not their transportation pipelines are becoming the secondary routes rather than the heavily patrolled Interstate. These new detours are bringing drugs through the smaller police jurisdictions, the ones that have little or no effective means of narcotics interdiction and detection. Major drug distributors now living in the United States are even giving up city life in favor of the more quiet and secure country surroundings.
Narcotic detection dog teams have proven themselves a valuable asset to the law enforcement community when used properly. The problem however, is getting these expensive K-9 teams to those departments least able to afford them and the most likely to have an ever increasing need for such a unit. Even when funds are available for the purchase of a trained animal, the expertise needed to train the handlers is often far away. The costs of efficient canine training courses can be astronomical. Yet with the advent of revised asset seizure laws, smaller departments are the ones that stand to benefit greatly from a bust or two. Unfortunately purchase prices for quality, commercially trained narcotic detector dogs are presently in the vicinity of $5,000 to $10,000. Well beyond the budgets of most law enforcement agencies, especially rural Sheriff's Departments and their municipal counterparts.
THERE HAS GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY
Jay Smith and Mike Bedrich, police trainers for the Criminal Justice Training Center of the Tarrant County Junior College in Fort Worth, Texas wondered if there was a solution. Could a viable program be developed that would provide the trained narcotics dogs with effective handler instruction that Texas agencies sorely needed? Could a program be developed that would get these trained teams on the streets, at prices that were affordable? Could funds be located to produce competent narcotics detector teams cheaper than currently available from commercial sources?
They consulted Bill Grimmer, an internationally renowned dog trainer living in Canada. Mr. Grimmer has extensive experience training dogs for police, security and corrections agencies on a worldwide basis. Bill and Jay had been friends since the "80's" when both had lived and worked in east Texas. Bill as a security company owner and dog trainer. Jay as a police Lieutenant.
The resulting program provides workable solutions to all the questions posed. The final obstacle was start up funding. The college agreed to help, but could not provide all the funds necessary to conduct this pilot project. A grant application, seeking federal funds, was submitted to the Texas Narcotics Control Program, a division of the Governors' Office. The application was approved and a $35,000, matching fund grant was awarded for 93-94. The Narcotic Detector Dog-Team Project was born.
The program has worked beyond the expectations of the optimistic trio of trainers. To date Thirteen agencies have had detector teams trained during the first grant year. In the 11 months since the first class graduated; nine teams have reported in excess of eleven million dollars ($11,000,000) worth of drugs and assets seized since the teams "hit the streets". Remarkable considering that eight of the agencies fielded their teams in January of 1994 and the other five did not field operational teams until May of 1994.
All of this at no cost to the attending departments other than room and board for the students while attending two, one week training sessions at the Fort Worth facility.
HOW IT IS STRUCTURED
The project is designed to train twenty dog trainers, who in turn will train twenty detector dogs per year. Achieved in two training cycles annually, ten cadet teams per cycle. Each cycle has four parts or modules. Three of the modules consist of classroom and hands on training conducted in Fort Worth, the other module is an "at home" study and intensive training period. The first module is a two and one-half day administrators' seminar, attended by agency decision makers from across the State.
During this module administrators learn the pros and cons of a canine detector dog division. They learn the costs and the many commitments necessary to support a successful program. They are briefed on asset seizure and forfeiture statutes that can financially benefit their departments. They are given hints regarding fund raising and public relations. They receive information on the selection criteria for both dogs and handlers. On the last day of the seminar they are given a two page application. They are asked to go back to their agencies, review all the information they have received and then decide whether or not to continue with the program.... most do!
For those agencies chosen, the second training module begins approximately one month later, with the selected trainers arriving in Fort Worth ready to begin a intensive week of study and practical exercises. They arrive at the college to first learn the important and necessary material of animal (dog) behavior and techniques for it's modification. Classroom instruction and after hours work with the young dogs starts early and ends late. Some trainer candidates arrive with pre-selected dogs (ideally puppies are selected, some as young as 8 - 10 weeks old) others are assigned dogs they choose during the week. All dogs are chosen based on criteria provided during the first module. Often local breeders can supply the necessary canine candidates. Breeders either travel to the college with their puppies or the class will test them on location. The techniques used to bond the dogs to the trainer are of primary importance at this stage, as the trainers learn initial puppy development and behavior.
Psychological based animal training techniques such as positive and negative reinforcement are learned and applied in the training. Behavior shaping short cut techniques and natural dog drive enhancements are learned in the first two days. Commercial trainers either cannot or will not explain this important information to their students, thereby jeopardizing future effective dog handling. The initial emphasis during this module is to teach techniques that will bolster the dog's confidence and in getting the proper responses to commands such as: SIT, DOWN, HEEL, DIG, SPEAK and FIND. Confidence building (in the trainer and dog) is the single most important aspect of dog development; the six Basic Commands play a major role in the success of early training. Positive reinforcement with food and praise rewards are extensively used to develop animals this young. When animals are young and mentally developing, food is by far the best reinforcement to develop the necessary working habits that will last a lifetime for the animal. Praise is also a significant aspect in nurturing good habits, but is secondary to that of food for animals this young.
By the second day of training the puppies are alerting on "pseudo narcotics" 1 without help from their handlers. Dogs as young as 10 weeks quickly differentiate the target material in identical containers. They are soon clambering in and out of boxes, around and under obstacles in search of pseudo marijuana. Quickly progressing, they begin barking and tearing apart cardboard boxes containing the scent. After a tiring week of training and instruction on developmental techniques, the cadet teams return to their communities to continue their education.
This third module, the "at home" session lasts approximately two months. During this time the teams complete a workbook requiring daily reinforcements and activities. Progressively harder tasks become the routine for the new team. Each team reports on a regularly scheduled basis to project headquarters where many problems and questions are answered. Mr. Grimmer is always available for questions from the teams. A further requirement of this module is for the teams to periodically submit video tapes of their progress throughout the module.
The trainers and their charges return to Fort Worth for the fourth and final module. This session begins with a review, refresher work and technique correction. Trainers that followed instructions and were diligent in their training during the "at home" module are allowed to have their dogs begin work with real marijuana (conversion to other pseudo drugs is accomplished for some) and by the end of the week pass detection certification. Certification is to the standards of the Texas K-9 Police Assoc. for Certification and Standards, the International Canine Narcotic Detector Foundation and the Criminal Justice Training Center. Not all teams pass at this time, though the majority do. Those not passing are sent home with remedial work and may re-test during future cycles.
This project is not without its critics. Many of the doubts and comments were expected. Several "commercial" dog trainers expressed negative concerns: "How could an officer, a novice to dog training and with only 2 weeks of classroom instruction become effective?" "How could a dog, still an undeveloped puppy, be trained to detect narcotics?" "Everyone knows a dog must be at least 18 months old in order to train." A variety of other nay sayers were heard from and their concerns considered.
Larry Pitman, Operational Commander of the Fort Bend County Narcotics Task Force (Houston area) and one of the first graduates of the course says; "I was probably one of the most skeptical". Bill said, "Larry give me three days and I'll convince you". I gave him three days and I was convinced that this method is the most effective I have ever seen." Larry and Darby, his eight month old Golden Retriever, have achieved several major narcotics and asset seizures since the completion of their training. In one case Darby alerted on a cardboard box (in a storage shed full of boxes) containing over $500,000.00 in cocaine contaminated currency.
The success of the program is impressive. Mike Bedrich states, "We believe that this type of training (the handler training the K-9) will make a detector dog program cost effective for even the smallest department. The ultimate goal of the program is to place highly trained K-9 detector teams in departments that could not otherwise afford to purchase a trained animal. We have seen in the first two modules that it is the handler who is the critical element of the team. All animals have performed above expectations."
Another graduate, Paul Thornton of The Colony Police Department writes, "I began gathering data for my department on the possibility of purchasing a trained K-9 from a reputable vendor. I spoke to numerous Dallas area K-9 teams and several vendors during the process. I worked up a budget proposal and discovered that when considering the cost of the K-9 and the time spent at handler school, the cost of implementing a K-9 program was well in excess of $10,000. My budget proposal was submitted and was short lived. Due to the size of my department (20 sworn officers) and The Colony itself, it was not feasible for the city to dedicate the money required on a single specialized field. A couple of months later, I learned that an experimental, state funded, Narcotic Detector Dog school was being held at the Tarrant County Junior College in Ft. Worth. On March 15th (1994) I arrived at the college with my newly purchased 8 week old black lab, Major. Upon our arrival I released Major to Bill Grimmer who placed him into a secluded classroom for a series of tests called, "puppy aptitude tests". After the testing period I met personally with Bill and he felt that Major was an excellent candidate for the school and provided me with an upcoming class date. Upon my return to The Colony I met with my division commander and the Chief. I received the "OK" to attend the upcoming school. In preparation for attendance to the school I spoke to some area K-9 handlers who quickly informed me that the idea of training puppies was ludicrous and unheard of. They believed that the short attention span of a puppy would make them impossible to train.
With the comments of the area handlers still in the back of my mind, I began my first days of study. After a week of training, Major and I returned home for a month of training on our own. During this time we put to work all of the training information that Grimmer had taught us. Upon completion of the home study we returned to TCJC for an additional week of training and problem solving. Before the weeks end we had crossed the dogs over to real marijuana and on the last day of training Major received certification through TCJC as a marijuana detection dog.
Two weeks after the last day of school, and with Major at the tender age of 6 months, we attended the National Narcotic Detector Dog Assoc. (NNDDA) certification in Corsicana, Texas. To the astonishment of several K-9 teams, Major was certified in the detection of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Amazing to me was the fact that Major only had one week of training on pseudo cocaine and had never been introduced to other pseudo narcotics.
With certification behind us we began working. During the first month Major began making a few small finds. By the third month of street work we had seized over $10,000 worth of narcotics and over $20,000 in property. Major's totals for the year are approximately $17,000 worth of narcotics and $40,000 in assets seized. As you might imagine with these results, many of the skeptics are changing their attitudes towards the TCJC program. Major is now 10 months old (October 1994) and because we started working as a team at such an early age, The Colony looks forward to many years of successful drug finds. Major currently alerts on cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, heroin, and marijuana. K-9 Major has located all of the above narcotics in actual street situations."
As of October 31, 1994, the following is a list of total K-9 activity for The Colony Police Department:
These results seem typical of the agencies reporting back to the project. Of the eleven million $ in seizures mentioned earlier, the following is a break-down (9 of 13 team reporting):
|Drug tainted currency||$667,700.00|
These first year results are encouraging and it is hoped that the twenty teams planned for the second grant year will be as productive. Ten new teams are currently in their third module of training as this article is written.
For the third year of funding the college plans to ask the State to increase its allocation to allow 30 teams to be trained for 95-96. Hopes are high even in the austere fiscal climate.
The Texas Narcotics Control Program recently advised project headquarters, that funding for "commercial" detector dogs would be denied to those agencies wanting this historical source of funds. Requesting agencies will be directed to contact the Detector Dog Project for consideration into the training program.
Interested Texas law enforcement agencies are asked to contact the Criminal Justice Training Center for future training placement. Agencies outside of Texas, interested in pursuing a similar program are requested to contact either Bill Grimmer at (506) 532 4988 (fax 506-532 6368) or Jay Smith at (817) 232 7760 (fax 817-232 7707).
1 "pseudo narcotics" - All pseudo narcotics have been provided, at no cost to the project since its inception, by Ms. Pat Carr of the Sigma Chemical Company of St. Louis, Missouri. Pseudo narcotic chemicals for training have provided better results than training with actual narcotics. Their purity laboratory consistent, they are court tested and with pseudo narcotics there are no property room "nightmares" involving lost samples during training.
About the Authors
Bill has been the owner/operator of Bill Grimmer Man Dog-Teams, Ltd., Canada for the past 20 years. Bill's company has trained detector and working dogs for police, private security, search & rescue and corrections agencies throughout Canada and the U.S. Bill has trained animals internationally, having recently completed a training contract with the National Narcotics Police of Guyana, South America.
Jay J. Smith
Jay has worked in the Criminal Justice field since 1972. Sixteen of those years as a sworn officer for county and municipal agencies. He has been a police training specialist with the Tarrant County Junior College for the past seven years and acquainted with dog training since 1982.