WANTED - Pedigreed and a nose for the job

Police Kennel Division’s recruitment drive to increase ‘dogpower’ within its ranks for its war on drugs
By Yasasmin Kaviratne

Tenders have been called to import 100 more dogs of “good” breeding to further strengthen the Police Kennel Division Headquarters in Kandy. They will be trained to facilitate the renewed ‘war on drug trafficking’ in the country, Director- Police Kennel Division, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Mahinda Ekanayake said.

The Police Kennel Division Headquarters trains kennels and kennel handlers not only for the Police islandwide, but also for the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The last set of dogs imported to Sri Lanka was in 2005, when a German shepherd had cost Rs.310 000, he said, adding that, the new set of dogs to be imported would cost around Rs 500,000 per dog. Some of the previously imported breeds had died due to change of climate.

Chief Inspector Sunil Wijesinghe

Director, SSP Ekanayake explained that a programme was launched to request the public to donate their dogs to be trained and stationed at various Police stations. “That was because there was a shortage of dogs in the Division. Around 300 dogs were offered, from which we chose around 60 at that time. Even now, there are people willing to donate their dogs and, if the donor wishes, he/she can have his/her dog back after a service of eight years. If not, we follow normal regulations used for retired dogs”.

Out of a total of 202 trained dogs currently stationed islandwide by the Division, 105 were donated by the public under the programme launched in 2008. Services rendered by the Police kennels, though less discussed, are no less important. Headquarters Inspector (HQI)- Police Kennel Division, Sunil Wijesinghe said that Police kennels are used to solve crimes in the absence of leads during a Police investigation. “The crime detection dogs pick up the lead and the policemen follow up the investigation from there.”

Tina, a kennel trained to detect explosives, currently in service in Anuradhapura, detected a welded and sealed suicide kit hidden in a vehicle, at the Medawachchiya checkpoint in September, 2006. The Inspector General of Police at that time rewarded Tina and the handler with Rs 100,000. Roja, currently on special duty in Medawachchiya, detected 660 detonators in Ikiriyagollewa in Medawachchiya in 2008 and 277 sticks of gelignite concealed under a vehicle, while on duty at a checkpoint in the same area.

There are instances where the door-lock, or a footprint or sometimes the equipment used to break doors, was the only evidence left for the dog to scent and find a lead that helps solve the crime. More often than not, they succeeded in aprehending the culprit.

Once, the LTTE, after an attack on the Police post at Thanamalvila, fled into the region’s jungles. The only lead for the Police dog to follow was an LTTE cadre’s cap. The dog followed the scent for 10km, where the LTTE cadres were hiding . The LTTE opened fire from their hidden positions, taking the joint Army-Police search party unawares. The team scattered and lost the dog too. After about an hour or two, the dog found its way back to the handler. Had the Army-Police team been more alert and taken precautions, the LTTE cadres could have been captured.

Labradors, German Shepherds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Rottweilers are some of the common breeds used for Police training. Among the pups born under the breeding programme, four Labradors are in good, healthy condition, ready to take part in the training programmes soon.

“Other than in the Police divisions, trained kennels are deployed elsewhere too. Narcotic sensitive dogs have been stationed at the airport, while dogs sensitive to explosives have been stationed at the President’ Security Division, Prime Minister’s Security Division, Parliament, BMICH where VIPs often visit, and at roadblocks such as at Manampitiya, Habarana, Mahaoya and Ampara”, he explained.

He explained that the kennel training has been programmed for six months- The first three months is for obedience, while the last three months is for the relevant subject. Training periods could differ according to the skill and talent of the trainer and the dog. Therefore, training could be either under or in excess of six months.

“When dogs are trained for explosives, we train them for luggage search, vehicle search, building search and to detect explosives underground. These various ‘locations’ of search require different skills and different training methods for detection”, he said, adding that, there are two female handlers at Headquarters who are also very good at training the dogs.

HQI Wijesinghe said that the same set of dogs is used for the Police kennel displays. A display, usually, is of two-hour duration, comprising of 22 items. To date, 19 such displays have been staged this year.
Commenting on the retirement of these dogs, HQI Wijesinghe said that, normally, the retired dogs are auctioned, as any other expired government property. “The period of their service is subject to their health and physical condition, and therefore, varies. Normally, they serve the Police for eight to nine years”, he said.

“There aren’t sufficient dogs for emergency operations such as simultaneous raids on all the prisons for drug detection. Generally, 25-50 new dogs are needed to be trained every year, to fulfil the requirement”, HQI Wijesinghe elaborated.

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