EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Stockton University police Sgt. Tracey Stuart’s K-9 partner, Hemi, is an adorable chocolate Labrador retriever whose nose located explosives in the baggage claim area of the Atlantic City International Airport within minutes.
The airport served as the stage Thursday for an explosives-detection training seminar for police K-9 officers from throughout the region.
Hemi detected gunpowder placed in a fire extinguisher case on the wall and another explosive substance in a vent inside the baggage claim area.
“You can see as they approach the substance, the dog’s behavior changes. They start breathing heavier and become more excited,” K-9 trainer Thomas Conroy said as Stuart and Hemi searched the claim area.
When Hemi found the substances, he stopped and sat on the ground in front of Stuart. His demeanor was calm after being excited just before detecting the substances. He looked at the location of the explosives and back at Stuart.
“Good, Hemi! Good!” Stuart said after she tossed a toy for the dog.
The seminar was hosted by the New Jersey State Police.
The three-day seminar culminates in the certification of the dogs and handlers in explosive detection by the U.S. Police K-9 Association.
“This is so beneficial for the airport and also for the dogs and handlers to come and get the lay of the facility in the event of a real event,” said State Police Sgt. John Beck, who is assigned to the airport K-9 unit.
As officers maneuvered their dogs around the baggage claim area in search of explosives, they were watched by Sgt. William Finucane of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and retired Stafford Township police Chief Thomas B. Conroy. Both men are K-9 trainers.
“I brought some different explosives down so they can train with substances they haven’t trained with before. We’re putting them through the paces,” Finucane said.
During the seminar, dogs and their handlers were trained to detect explosive substances in baggage, vehicles and rooms at the airport.
“The reason that dogs are used and are so effective is because if officers had to ... (the search) would take just too long,” Finucane said.
Just like Hemi, it would take just minutes for a second dog to detect the explosives.
When it was State Trooper Claude Brower’s turn to look for the same explosives with his K-9 partner, Eecho, he walked the Belgian Malinois down the aisles and the dog climbed onto the baggage carousel. As he rounded the corner where the first substance was located, he became more excited.
Brower walked Eecho near the first area where the explosives were located, and the dog paced and then sat back on his haunches. He had found what he was looking for in a matter of moments.
To be able to train the K-9 dogs on-site at the airport is an invaluable experience Finucane said.
“With the state that this country and the world is in with terrorism and everything, these guys need to be ready for it. Everybody says it can’t happen here, but it can, so we have to try and prevent it,” Finucane said.
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