- Marissa McClain/Daily
BY DEVON THORSBY
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 18, 2010
For years the University’s police force has been revered throughout Washtenaw County for its tracking abilities. The Department of Public Safety is able to locate almost anything, from hidden explosives and fleeing suspects all the way to a key on a football field — thanks in part to two officers with four legs.
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For the past eight years, DPS’s canine unit has served the University as well as surrounding areas as one of the leading forms of explosive and article detection and tracking in the county.
DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said the department chose to create a canine unit in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, based on heightened level of concern for the safety of students and guests on campus.
“That represented a significant change in that there was extraordinary threat and damage,” Brown said. “The war had come to the soil of the United States.”
At the time the program was created, DPS was one of the first agencies in the county to have a canine unit. Since then, others have been added, but the University’s police dogs are known for their credibility in tracking and detection.
Sgt. Jason Forsberg, head of the canine unit, said thanks to the success of the dogs and their handlers, the program is in high demand throughout the county.
“Our handlers and dogs have been very competent in what they do over the years,” Forsberg said. “I’d say it’s evolved in that we get more requests for services from other agencies as other agencies get more confidence in our abilities.”
Police dogs Sampson and Tazer, under the instruction of Officers Mark West and Mike Mathews, are the second generation of police dogs at DPS. In 2008, the original police dogs for the department, Brutus and Jessy, retired from duty and were adopted by DPS officers as pets.
Sampson and Tazer, a brother and sister from the same litter of Belgian Malinois, were selected for police work early in their lives based on their development as puppies as well as their documented lineage, according to Mathews.
Once purchased by the department, the dogs, who had received some previous training, spent one week training intensely for 40 hours with their handlers before beginning shifts in the field.
While remarkably well-trained, at a training demonstration last week, Tazer embodied the concept of “work hard, play harder.” Upon finding explosives in training, she sat and waited patiently for her reward — a game of tug-of-war —, which she rarely loses, only releasing the toy upon upon verbal command from Matthews.
Mathews, an officer with the canine unit since 2008, explained that explosive-detection dogs are taught to associate training with play.