Week 6: Inside the Citizens Police Academy
Meet Ranger: He’s a 6-year-old bloodhound and an officer with the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office. He was by far my favorite guest speaker—or barker—so far at the Mt. Lebanon Citizens Police Academy.
He was so friendly and gave many of us slobbering wet puppy kisses as he made his way around the room. Then, he showed off his skills.
While most police K9s in the region are German shepherd dogs or Belgian Malinois, some departments are now using bloodhounds for trailing and tracking. They have an amazing sense of smell.
As his handler, Deputy Jeff Belback explained: “Bloodhounds are born with a drive to track and find people.” They can follow a scent that’s even a couple of days old, which makes them a great asset when a person goes missing.
Unlike patrol K9s, Ranger and other bloodhounds don’t track a scent in a near straight line. First, they wander around an area to collect scent evidence. Then, for Ranger, Deputy Belback introduces him to a scent that he collected from a scene (he even has a cool machine that he uses to collect scents). Next: It’s Ranger’s turn to find the person.
We walked through Mt. Lebanon Cemetery on Tuesday night and watched Ranger work. He followed the scent of Ofc. Steve Shipe around the cemetery and successfully located him standing behind a tree.
“He loves going to work,” Belback said of Ranger. “His favorite thing to do is to find people.”
Ranger is motivated by food. So, whenever he completes a task, he expects to be fed.
That’s different from Snieper, Mt. Lebanon’s former K9 officer whose end of watch came on October 1, when he had to be put down due to natural causes. Snieper, a dual purpose K9 who worked narcotics and patrol, was motivated by toys and lots of praise from his handler. When he would find something, be it a person or narcotics, he would sit or start barking to alert handler Cpl. Ben Himan of his find.
Snieper was on the agenda to appear at Tuesday’s class. I know that I was sad that he didn’t make it to Week 6. Himan spent a portion of the class sharing about Mt. Lebanon’s K9 program and the accomplishments of Snieper. K9s are an important tool for a police department. They use their strong sense of smell to locate people or items. They can also assist in apprehension, with their powerful bite.
Spieper, a Belgian Malinois, was born in Holland and spent six weeks training with Himan before starting in the Mt. Lebanon department in 2013. Snieper and Himan spent 16 hours every month training for the job.
“Everything was a game for him,” Himan said. He never practiced negative training with Snieper. Instead, everything was about having fun for the K9 officer.
Himan’s favorite part of the role was getting to meet people from all over and seeing kids smile when they met Snieper.
Snieper lived with Himan and his family and, from a video he showed, was quite a special dog on and off the job.
Mt. Lebanon Magazine made this video to honor Snieper’s memory. You can also learn about how to contribute to the purchase of a new K9 at the end of the video.
We also learned about the department’s drone program from Cpl. Himan and Ofc. Shipe and how they use the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) on the job. Five members of the Mt. Lebanon Police Department have a pilot’s license–yes, that’s required—to fly a drone.
The drone pilots have to follow a lot of rules, but the drone can be helpful when trying to get a bird’s eye view of a situation, help put things into perspective or even to go into a dangerous situation to scope it out so the department doesn’t have to put an officer in jeopardy. They also have thermal capabilities, which can help them locate a missing person.