Workshop trains small-town K-9 officers to assess and document dogs' skills
Twenty K-9 handlers and their dogs gathered October 26 at the N.H. Police K-9 Academy in Newington for a workshop on using geospatial technology to assess the scent-tracking skills of the dogs.
"It was the first time I'd worked with police officers and the first time I'd worked with a group who had such specific ideas about what they wanted me to do. It went extremely well," says Shane Bradt, UNH Cooperative Extension geospatial technology specialist, who taught the workshop.
"We had gorgeous weather and a lot of fun. The group made tremendous strides in their use of GPS and their mapping skills."
Police K-9 Academy supports small-town K-9 units
The New Hampshire Police K-9 Academy, a nationally accredited K-9 training site on the grounds of the Pease Air Force National Guard base, allows small-town K-9 units to train by holding training sessions every Monday year-'round.
"Most towns can't afford to be without an officer for the 12 weeks it takes to go through the State Police K-9 training," says Mark Ericson, who chairs the board of the Working Dog Foundation, a non-profit that founded, operates, maintains, and raises funds for the Academy.
Since its founding in 1995, the Foundation has raised more than $200,000 to purchase dogs, bullet-proof vests for police dogs, and to retrofit police cruisers for qualifying police departments in New Hampshire, Maine, and northeastern Massachusetts.
Erickson says the Foundation purchased 10 GPS units, two computers, and the mapping software, but, "We soon found ourselves behind the 8-ball. We found there was more to this GPS stuff than we'd realized. We started looking around for someone who could teach us to use it. We're lucky we found Shane."
Officers learn to use high-tech tracking and mapping equipment
During the morning session, Bradt taught the handlers to "take points," to mark a trail, and to navigate using the hand-held GPS units.
"I put together short manuals on the specific GPS units they were using," said Bradt. "Most GPS units have similar functions, but each has different buttons and menus to learn. It's fairly simple, once you figure out which buttons to click."
"They asked very specific questions, like, 'What if I'm tracking in the woods at night and catch the bad guy, how do I notify my partner where I am?', Bradt says. "The answer: 'You collect a way point that records your GPS coordinates; the unit has a built-in radio which sends your partner the point where you're located.'"
"After lunch, we went back outside to work with the dogs," Bradt says. "The officers worked in pairs, each with their own dog. One would lay down the trail; the other would track him with his dog. Then they'd reverse roles.
"Afterwards they went to the computers to download and map the data they'd collected and project their tracks and trails onto the computer monitor. I installed free GIS software and loaded high-resolution aerial photos on the computers for the officers to map their tracks. We were able to see buildings and roads clearly, even cars in parking lots."
"It was a lot more chaotic than I'm used to," says Bradt with a laugh. "I'm usually the one doing all the talking. I'm not used to workshop participants taking that much initiative. These people all know each other and train together. They had specific things they wanted to learn, and helped each other do more and more as the day wore on. By the middle of the afternoon, I was standing on the sidelines and they were teaching each other.
Objective GPS records replace hand-drawn maps
John Usher, head trainer at the Academy since 1995, says, "It was originally my idea to bring GPS to the Academy. Small towns often incorporate large areas of woods. In addition to its other benefits, GPS technology could prevent officers from covering the same area twice during searches, more accurately set a point if you found evidence somewhere out in the woods, and help officers get out of the woods at night."
Retired from the Dover Police Department after 21 years, he now works full time on the Kittery, Maine, police force and part-time as dog handler for the Strafford County Sherriff's Department. Usher says police departments use the highly-trained dogs "to track and catch bad guys," as well as to find lost people. Some dogs are cross-trained to sniff for drugs and other substances.
"We purchased the GPS units and the computers, but found we needed to put A and B together," Usher says "Shane was a great find. He did a great service for us and we had a great time. He stayed eight or nine hours, making sure everyone knew how to use the equipment and even said he'd make himself available in the future."
"It was exciting to download both the scent trail and the path of the dog and actually see the tracks [projected onto a map]," Usher says. "We'd been evaluating the dogs by hand-drawing maps from memory on graph paper." In addition to providing objective validation of handlers' understanding of their dogs' skills, the GPS units will provide a standardized record of each dog's tracking skills that could stand up in court," Usher says, adding that he hopes to raise the funds to purchase GPS units for each Academy team (officer and dog) to use at home.
View a slide show of the daylong training event. Click on "Show info" in upper left of photo to see captions.
UNH Cooperative Extension's Geospatial Technologies Training Center Provides educational outreach programs that help community organizations, government agencies, and ordinary citizens make more informed decisions.Offers a wide variety of instructional workshops, from two-hour introductory sessions to 10-day intensive courses.
Photo by Shane Bradt