More than 100 K-9 officers and scores of police departments from as far away as New York City to as close as the Everett Police units descended on the old Everett High School K-9 training facility last week for training and certification.
Under Chief Steve Mazzie, the K-9 unit has grown over the last 10 years, with Everett Police having three K-9 officers and three trained police officer handlers. In the course of that time, the needs for K-9 officers in all facets of law enforcement – from bomb detection to drug detection – has increased tremendously.
Last year, Mazzie said the department opened one of the only K-9 training facilities in the area at the old Everett High School. It’s gotten a tremendous amount of use, and no more so than last week when the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) held a K-9 Odor Recognition Testing course in the facility.
Scores of dogs were tested in their ability to correctly sniff out bomb making materials – a skill made all the more important after all three of Everett’s K-9 units were called to duty around the clock in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
“They’re a great resource to have on the department, and we got our first K-9 officer in 2004,” said Chief Mazzie. “All three of our K-9s were called up for duty after the Boston Marathon bombing and they were invaluable there. We look at it as our dog is our neighbor’s dog. We do a lot of operations together. The K-9 officer world is a small world. Whether it’s the ATF or the other local departments, we all work together.”
The three-day program was seen as a recertified for dogs by ATF to make sure the dogs were able to still correctly locate explosives and firearm related evidence. The canine’s nose is a major asset making them capable of detecting up to 19,000 explosive combinations. These canines work with police agencies to seek out explosives, guns and spent ammunition in violent crime cases as well as providing security sweeps for major events such as the Boston Marathon, sporting events, the July 4 Esplanade concert and other public gatherings.
“We do this all over the country a variety of agencies – state, local and federal – and are glad to be able to do this certification in Everett,” said Ray Neely of the ATF, who also is a handler for his dog, Knox. “The purpose is to make sure the K-9 handlers have an opportunity to test their dogs on uncontaminated explosives odors.”
Set up in what looked like paint cans lined in a circle, the test route featured several cans with specific explosive smells in some of the cans. Handlers and their K-9s would quickly move from can to can, with the K-9 stopping when detecting a target odor. Neither the handler, nor the dogs, knew which cans contained the right smells. In order to gain recertification, the dogs had to find 100 percent of the right odors, as there is no room for error in such a line of work.
For the most part, the dogs performed flawlessly.
On hand last Thursday for the course was Rafael Hernandez, ATF branch chief for the National Canine Division.
He said he appreciates that so many local departments like Everett have invested in K-9 units, and he said his bureau is happy to help the local departments make sure their dogs’ training remains top-notch.
“Obviously, the more departments that get K-9s, the better for public safety,” he said. “We have our own K-9 handlers that work in tandem with state and local departments. With a program like this, we make sure that state and local K-9s have the opportunity to test whether they are proficient in detecting explosive odors. We’re encouraged by the numbers of K-9s that are out there in departments and we want to help them as much as possible to make sure the dogs are trained correctly with the proper skills. You can’t have too many dogs because dogs are like people in that they get tired and injured. So, it’s great to have more properly trained dogs to switch out.”