Tech’s Best Friend Keeps Campus Safe
When working on a college campus, one doesn’t always think of a K9 unit as being an integral part of the overall community protection. However at Georgia Tech, the K9 Unit is not only a lively component of the Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD) but also an essential part of our campus safety initiatives.
Officer Zach Bryan and Koda, a Belgian Malinois, of the Georgia Tech Police Department's K9 Unit.
Specifically, GTPD deploys the capabilities of a canine’s ultrasensitive olfactory receptors to search for explosives. Campus demand for this technology, which only a canine can deliver, is understandably quite high.
“Tech is situated in an urban environment, frequently attracts large crowds on campus, and hosts visiting dignitaries — all of which necessitate sweeping for explosives,” said Sergeant Archie Hill. Last year’s football game against the University of Georgia required six bomb-sniffing dogs to effectively cover Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Georgia Tech has three dogs in its highly trained K9 Unit. The most recent addition, Miley, joined last spring. At 6 years of age, this energetic Labrador has served three deployments in Afghanistan with the Marine Corps, making her the most decorated dog on the force. While Miley has a military background, it is actually Tech’s partnership with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) that helps fund the acquisition, training, required equipment, and maintenance of Tech’s highly specialized dogs.
Georgia Tech’s relationship with GEMA and other state and local agencies has helped elevate Tech to become the preferred trainer of explosive-detecting K9 units throughout the state. Given the specialized skills required, there are only a few certified explosive K9 trainers in the state, one of which is GTPD’s own Officer Rob Turner. Seventy percent of the nearly 100 dogs in K9 units throughout Georgia train with Turner.
“Unlike other training methods, we have to use live explosives where the dog is actively searching for more than 30 compounds of varying amounts,” Turner said. “Each training program is a little different, but at Tech we pride ourselves on having extraordinarily rigid testing standards — there is no room for error, and our dogs excel at being rock stars in this capacity.” All three of GTPD’s dogs routinely pass the certification test with 100 percent scores.
Turner, who partners with a bomb technician from the Gwinnett County Police Department, conducts trainings throughout the state, and recently assisted – along with Officer Zach Bryan and K9 Koda – in sweeping for potential explosives during last April’s FedEx shooting in Kennesaw.
“Not only is deploying these resources when needed a part of the agreement with GEMA, but it is also the right thing to do for our community both at Tech and the greater metropolitan area,” said Hill. Turner and his K9 Unit have assisted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and Homeland Security. They observed Independence Day by helping with the celebration at Stone Mountain Park.
When asked about his relationship with his special four-legged friends, Turner can’t help but smile. He says that while it can take anywhere up to eight months to form a good working relationship with these dogs, they eagerly become part of your family in a matter of minutes.