WESTPORT, Conn. — Hamden Police Officer Kelley Groleau let out a whoop Thursday and tossed a well-loved toy to her K-9 partner, Sar, who waved his tail with excitement.
He had correctly detected the odor of an explosive along the cafeteria lunch line at Staples High School.
Thankfully for students — and town lunch ladies — Groleau and Sar were taking part in a Regional Explosives Detection Dog Initiative (REDDI), a national Department of Homeland Security program to identify strengths and weaknesses.
The two-day session, the first of its kind held in the Northeast, brought out K-9 teams from across the state, New York and the Metro Transit Authority.
While all 15 participating teams are trained specifically to detect explosives, not drugs or other chemicals, the regional training helps officers collaborate and learn about new odors and scenarios.
“It gives them exposure to potential emerging threats they might not otherwise see,” said Don Robert, Homeland Security’s science and technology program manager.
Homeland Security maintains more than 4,000 K-9 teams across the federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement communities.
Roberts said Staples was an ideal location for the training. His team was able to create real-world settings a dog might encounter, such as the cafeteria and lunch room.
Other dogs and their partners wound their way through the seats in the school’s auditorium — in the same way they would before a visiting dignitary would deliver a speech to a large audience. Outside, three black vehicles awaited a trial that mimicked preparing for a motorcade.
The MTA K-9 team of Brian Dembinski and Lucky waited for their turn to work. Two-year-old Lucky completed 12 weeks of basic training and an additional 16 week of work on tracking, evidence searching and other specialities.
But Dembinski said regional programs like Thursday’s allow them to keep current.
“This is great,” he said.
Fast-acting dogs can provide a first line of defense in police emergencies, said Westport Lt. David Farrell.
“We can resolve an issue in under a half-hour,” he said.
Roberts stressed the special bond in a K-9 team.
“It’s one really good nose and one really good brain,” he said. “There are two ends of the leash.”