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Bomb-sniffing K-9 units converge for training event, co-hosted by Kirkland, Redmond police
Several explosive-sniffing K-9 units from around the state converged in the parking lot at La Quinta Inn in Kirkland Tuesday afternoon.
But don't worry, there were no bomb threats at the hotel on Northeast Northup Way.
The K-9 units were part of a three-day training seminar by the Washington State Police Canine Association (WSPCA). Tuesday's exercise featured dogs who are solely trained to locate bombs and explosives.
The Kirkland and Redmond Police departments co-hosted the seminar, which had teaching sessions at La Quinta and at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond. WSPCA conducts training sessions for K-9 units specializing in patrol, along with narcotics and explosives detection, each spring and fall — one on the west side of the Cascades and another on the east side. In addition, the non-profit organization provides certification for qualified K-9 units.
Jeff Trombley, the Kirkland K-9 handler, and Sam Hovenden, the Redmond K-9 handler, were the volunteer organizers of the event, which attracted about 75 law enforcement handlers.
Hovenden said the seminar is crucial for K-9 units to hone their skills and network with other handlers.
"For most handlers, this is the show," said Hovenden, who is a WSPCA master trainer and executive board member. "This is where they get their refresher training, their updates. This helps keep your dog's skills honed. There's not a lot of training out there and our association is proactive and provides the needed training. What we try to do is give training above and beyond. We strive for excellence."
Trombley and Hovenden worked hard to bring in national forensics experts and dog trainers as educators for the seminar, which concludes Wednesday. Dr. Kenneth Furton, founding director and currently director emeritus of the International Forensic Research Institute at Florida International University, was a notable speaker at the seminar. He talked about how crime-fighting dogs hone their sense of smell and how trainers can get the most out of their canine partners.
On Tuesday, Mike Herstik, a former instructor for the Israeli Special Forces K-9 unit and instructor for the bomb portion of the seminar, set up a demonstration for the media with a bomb-sniffing K-9 unit from the Bellingham Police Department. Bellingham police officer Shan Hanon and his Belgain Malinois shepherd, Celina, performed a mock search of a scent wall — a plywood structure with pipe openings.
Led by Hanon, Celina sniffed each pipe opening in the structure before finding the target scent. Once she found the scent, she instantly sat down and pointed at the pipe opening with her nose in a frozen position — a condition known as "conditioned freeze response," said Herstik, an experienced K-9 trainer who is contracted with several agencies in the Los Angeles area.
Herstik said bomb dogs "have to have the quality of obsessiveness. We use a toy to motivate. They are obsessed for their toy. They will keep working and working for their toy. That is their motivation. If they are not obsessive, they will quit and we can't use dogs who quit in the middle of a bomb search."
Kirkland does not have a bomb K-9 unit, but Kirkland's K-9 unit — Trombley and his German shepherd Max — is trained to sniff out narcotics and is used for patrol, which includes tracking down suspected criminals and evidence. Trombley and Max have worked together for the last five years. The crime-fighting duo average about 8-9 tracks or searches in a five-day work week, according to Kirkland Police Sgt. Rob Saloum.
"Officers routinely call for a K-9 unit after a perimeter has been set by patrol officers allowing them the greatest chance for a capture of the suspect," Saloum said. "The use of our K-9 unit has greatly increased the immediate apprehension of suspects and greatly decreased the resulting risk to other officers and the public."
John Munson, the WSPCA president and head trainer for the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, said a good police dog has to be balanced, "one that we can use to fight crime and one we take to a kindergarten class and do a demonstration."
Every crime-fighting dog lives with his or her trainer, creating a strong bond between handler and dog, Munson said.
"When we're not working, they are at home just like regular pets," Munson said. "When it's time to go to work, they can't get to the car fast enough."