Article from the September 2002 Issue of LAW ENFORCEMENT TECHNOLOGY
Is K-9 work going high-tech?
Technological change slowly makes its way to the k-9 unit
By Ronnie Garrett
When it comes to K-9 work, the tools of the trade have always been a collar, a long line and a harness. Technology does exist to help police work dogs and their handlers as they carry out then- duties, but whether this technology becomes mainstream remains to he seen.
"For basic K-9 deployments, it's pretty much business as usual. It's been done the same way for years and years." says Jim Slater, a police constable in Winnipeg, Canada, Police Department and president of K9 Storm, a Canadian manufacturer of bullet-resistant vests for police canines.
Slater has over 15 years of police experience, many of which were spent working with the canine unit. In fact, as a K-9 handler, Slater and his police dog, Olaf, made over 285 arrests
Slater might call it "business as usual" in the police canine world, but the bullet-resistant vest he designed is just one piece of technology that has advanced the state-of-the-art in K-9 work.
Another important development is a remote-activated camera system for canines to wear in search-and-rescue situations presently in development with Sandia National Laboratories and the National Institute of Justice.
. . . you never know when a cheap shot is going to come at your dog. Jim Slater, K9 Storm
Protecting the dogs
Protecting canine members of your department with bullet-resistant vests makes sense, says Jim Watson, national secretary of the North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA). Slater agrees saying that while it's a matter of personal preference, police canines should he wearing bullet-resistant vests whenever they are working.
In emergency response team deployments, the human officers are heavily armored and protected: the canines should he too. "We wear our vests on all calls for service. A dog should he afforded that same protection." Slater says. "Officers don't pull out their bullet-resistant vests when they think it's going to be dangerous, they wear them all the time. It's the same idea, you never know when a cheap shot is going to come at your dog."
The Vancouver (Canada) Police Department deploys its dogs in bullet-resistant vests when there is evidence to indicate that a suspect may he armed. This includes an on-line deployment, such as a track, or a deployment off-leash in a building. The dogs that work with the department's SWAT team also wear vests during entries.
Canines are your frontline defense, savs Sgt. Gord McGuinness of the Vancouver Police Department Dog Squad. "It stands to reason that the dog is the one that will be shot or stabbed first." he says. "With a ballistic vest, the dog has necessary protection from bullets, edged weapons and even blunt force trauma."
Protective vests for canines are nothing new: they've been around for quite awhile. But typically the vests available are one-size-fits-all blanket-style body armor designed to wrap around the dog. These vests often do not allow the freedom of movement police dogs require on the job.
When Slater couldn't find a vest that fit his dog, Olaf, in a way that allowed him to perform his duties, he designed a custom-fitted vest with a load-bearing harness rated to 2,500 pounds. Once other handlers saw the vest in use, they wanted one too. From there, Slater formed K9 Storm, and to date the company's vests protect work dogs in eight different countries.
Slater's patented vest design provides the canine with a custom fit. Before a vest is made, users receive a cotton sizing template with instructions on how to properly fit the dog. The company uses this cotton mock-up to construct a custom-fit vest.
It takes less than 30 seconds to put the vest on a dog, according to Glori Slater, vice president, K9 Storm. "There are no belts or buckles to adjust," she says. "The vest is constructed for that particular dog and it just zips up the dog's back to go on very quickly." Because it fits like a second skin, there is nothing for the dog to get hung up on while doing things like non-lethal dragline extractions, searches, tracking and rappelling.
McGuinness has been working with police canines for over 13 years. He calls the K9 Storm "the best vest on the market" and says its greatest asset is the fact that it allows the dog complete mobility. "The dog can run, jump and track in the vest, which makes it very versatile. It's a vest that the dog can wear at all times, if necessary."
Because K9 Storm vests are comfortable, getting dogs used to wearing them is fairly easy. The handler simply trains the dog to use it, just as they would any other piece of equipment. Just put the vest on the dog then do something the animal enjoys, like a rousing game of fetch, and the dog soon equates wearing the vest with doing something he likes, Slater says.
The learning curve is very short, agrees McGuinness, who says that the first time he put the vest on his current dog. Flash, the dog stood like a statue for a few minutes. Then he threw a ball for Flash to fetch. "He forgot about the vest and was off and running. All of Flash's inservice training is done in the vest, including protection work and obstacles. He adjusted to the vest very quickly, and now when it goes on he knows that it is 'work time.' "
The Threat Level II Kevlar and Zylon vests, designed to exceed the NIJO 101.3-4 Standard, feature double protection in the dog's lower chest cavity and heart area, similar to the trauma plate insertion used in human body armor. The protection keeps the dog safe from weapon fire and blunt trauma, and offers some slash and stab protection. (Riot prison vests are available when greater slash and stab protection is needed.)
As testament to the protection afforded a canine while wearing a K9 Storm vest, McGuinness recalls when an incident where a Molotov cocktail exploded on a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) canine's back while the animal was working with the RCMP crowd control unit during a demonstration. "If not for the vest the dog would have suffered serious burns and likely death," he recalls.
The titanium teeth misconception
About a year ago, news media reports proclaimed that American police dogs were being equipped with a new weapon in the fight against crime: titanium false teeth designed to improve a police K-9s bite - and their grip - on anyone trying to escape the law.
"This is a total misconception started by the news media," according to Jim Watson, national secretary of the North American Police Work Dog Association. "The only reason a dog's tooth gets capped is for health reasons. The only reason titanium or stainless steel is used is that it lasts longer and is less expensive than porcelain."
The truth in the tooth matter is that these caps are only needed if your dog needs dental work. They are not an enhancement at all.
Sandia National Laboratories, as part of a National Institute of Justice (NIJ) funded project, is exploring the use of tiny cameras that attach to a police canine's collar and send images via radio signals to a handheld television screen worn by an officer to give police officers and emergency responders a view of the scene from a safe position. The project is assessing whether K-9 camera kits might assist police SWAT teams during hostage negotiations and rescues by providing video intelligence of a scene.
These kits include a black-and-white camera and microphone, a transmitter, a neck-worn receiver for the officer, and a video recorder that stays with the officer as well. The kit typically uses an off-the-shelf video camera with a small footprint (3/4 inch by 1 inch by 1 inch) that weighs about 2 ounces. The camera offers 420 lines of resolution and a 70-degree field of view. The 2-ounce transmitter worn by the dog is 3/8 inch by 2 inches by 3 inches in size and has a 1,000-foot range. The camera, transmitter and receiver are powered by eight AA batteries that will last up to eight hours, while the recorder is powered by eight C-cell batteries that will last up to eight hours.
Ron Glaser of Sandia National Laboratories says the units sends an image back to the dog handler, who then has a picture of what the dog is seeing and where the camera is pointing. Sandia Project Leader Richard Sparks added a video recorder to the kit because lie found officers wanted to be able to play back the captured images, frame by frame if necessary. This feature allows them to review the video footage more intently than is possible when seeing it in real time.
These systems, inspired by the April 1999 Columbine School attack when officers lacked the reliable information they needed to safely enter school buildings, were given a real-world test after the World Trade Center collapse. Officials contacted Sandia to see if the kits could be deployed to aid the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams as they scoured the rubble for survivors.
Sparks spent 22 days working at Ground Zero helping US&R teams outfit their search dogs with the cameras and radios. The kits were in use 24 hours a day for several weeks. "None of Richard's teams found any survivors." Glaser says, "but they did identify a location where there were some bodies, and rescuers were able to break into the area without causing any more damage to them."
The real-life situation provided valuable information about the K-9 cameras' potential uses not only in law enforcement, but also in emergency response, and helped suggest needed improvements, according to Sparks.
NAPWDA's Watson questions the applications for such a system. He says that while the camera system is a tool. he wonders how it might actually he used in canine work. The systems might have potential in search-and-rescue situations or perhaps in SWAT missions, he says, but for regular canine patrol work the units might offer more technology than is necessary.
And, he says that a dog sent in to locate an armed intruder wearing one of these systems might he going on a "suicide mission." "We don't use our dogs for suicide missions." he emphasizes.
Slater also questions the use of these systems, noting that he has tested similar setups. "I'm not entirely sure what a good end-use would be for this technology, maybe searching scenarios," he says. "In tactical work a dog may be loose in a building but the image you obtain from a system like this might not give you any perspective of where in the building that image is coming from," he says.
Slater also expressed concern about the notion of sending dogs on suicide missions. He points out that robots and other tools with cameras attached might accomplish the same thing without risking a dog's life.
"To be able to see what the dog's seeing, might mean that you're filming the dog's demise," he says. "If the dog sees the suspect and the suspect sees him, the dog will be dead."
Sparks actually views search-and-rescue situations as the primary application for the camera systems. "There appears to be great interest in the K-9 cameras by many search-and- ITS rescue teams across the country, especially in California where the potential for collapsed buildings due to earthquakes is possible," he says.
Keeping first responders safe in these situations is one of the primary advantages these cameras offer. At the World Trade Center, for example, there were a lot of pockets in the rubble where there were believed to be survivors. A person could not be sent in there without disturbing the rubble too much and possibly causing additional loss of life, says Glaser. This system allowed crews to send a dog in first to locate survivors, and the video footage helped rescuers determine the best way to reach them.
McGuinness says he'd like to see systems like this go one step further and be equipped with global positioning systerns (GPS). "A small GPS system on the dog's harness would pinpoint locations for the handler in a search-and-rescue situation, and in the area of tracking it would allow you to retrace your exact route during your deployment," he says.
Any new technologies for K-9 work are worth noting. As McGuinness says, "Any advancement in K-9 technology is a step in the right direction." And w ho knows, maybe someday soon the tools of the trade in K-9 work will expand to include a bullet-resistant vest, dog-worn cameras and GPS units. Only time will tell.
Article written by Ronnie Garrett for
LAW ENFORCEMENT TECHNOLOGY