Magazine article Security Management

Dog Use Dogged by Questions

Magazine article Security Management

Dog Use Dogged by Questions

Article excerpt

WHEN THE HOMELAND SECURITY threat alert gets raised to orange, one response at many government-operated public facilities like subway stations is to bring in bomb sniffing dogs. But to what standard have those dogs been trained?

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Dogs are trained "to a variety of inconsistent standards and under various conditions. In fact, there is no consistent definition as to what even constitutes an explosives detection canine," according to Terry Bohan, chief of the National Canine Training and Operations Support Branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Bohan, who made his remarks at a congressional hearing on the use of dogs in homeland security, noted further that fewer than 50 percent of the law enforcement canine teams are associated with a recognized federal canine training program. ATF has one such program in the government; another is the Transportation Security Administration's National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program.

Should national standards be mandated? A more flexible approach, such as best practices guidelines, was championed by Michael Moriarty, associate provost and vice president of Auburn University, who spoke on behalf of the university's Canine and Detection Research Institute. The institute conducts federally funded research into such issues as a dog's olfactory sensitivity and the effectiveness of detector dogs under varying conditions.

An effort to develop best practices is now being undertaken by the Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Detector Guidelines (SWGDOG), whose members include representatives from academia, the scientific community, government, and private industry. The group, which held its first meeting in September, hopes to "evaluate methods, techniques, protocols, quality assurance, education, and research relating to detector dogs," according to its bylaws.

SWGDOG has an ambitious agenda, with plans to publish for public comment a panoply of draft guidelines this year, covering issues such as terminology, kenneling, selection of handlers, and presentation of evidence in court.

Meanwhile, within government, some efforts to set standards have been under-taken. Even as early as 1996, Congress (prompted by the Olympic Village bombing) directed ATF to develop odor recognition standards for bomb-detection K-9s, and since August 2004, all Justice Department components have been directed to use only ATF-certified canines. To address these mandates, ATF has developed the National Odor Recognition Testing (NORT) initiative, which is being pilot-tested at ATF's Canine Training Center, Bohan said. …

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