Conroe ISD gets third canine cop
The newest recruit at the Conroe Independent School District Police comes from Holland, is an explosives expert and will do just about anything for a tennis ball.
Fire, a three-year old Belgium Malanois, is the latest canine officer to join the school district police force. She is trained to detect 14 different scents associated with the construction of explosives and can bound through a classroom or a bank of lockers in a few seconds flat. She also can track a lost child up to 200 yards.
This dog, to me, means that I have a second chance to keep not only my community, but the three surrounding counties, safe," said Cpl. John McPhillips, director of community outreach for Conroe ISD Police. It is a luxury that the county has and police department s have, and we are fortunate to have an explosive dog in these times."
Fire is among three canine units assigned to the 55 campus school district, which serves much of Montgomery County, including The Woodlands and Conroe. The other two teams Hari, handled Corp Ken Rademacher and Snap, handled by Corp. Pat Jolly -- are drug-sniffing dogs that search out contraband in schools.
They definitely bring a higher level of security and safety to our campuses," said Chief Bill Harness of the Conroe Independent School District Police. Whether it is keeping drugs off campus, or as it related to the explosives, it definitely keeps school safer if we are alerted to a tip, we can check it out. Not only is it a safety issue, but it is that we can react so quickly we can reduce the disruption in the education process."
While the district has had drug detection dogs for more than 16 years, it introduced an explosive canine about seven years ago to better handle bomb threats at schools. Marley was McPhillips' first partner, but the 11 year old German Shepherd dieto illness over the Christmas holiday.
She was every dog handler's dream" McPhillips said. There wasn't anyone that didn't love Marley. She was an automatic dog, just a perfect dog. You don't get that all the time. She was 1 in 5,000. I feel very very fortunate to get her as my first time dog."
Now, McPhillips is teamed with Fire, a rambucuos recruit who in anxious to work to get her reward a tennis ball. Unlike Marley who was slow and methodical, Fire does her job at lightning speed, circling a classroom or whizzing down a line of lockers in search of explosive components. When she finds one, she will sit patiently on the mark.
Fire, a native of Holland who has her own Dutch passport, was trained for six to 12 weeks by Cobra K-9 of Virginia Beach, an agency which trains dogs to work with the Navy Seals. McPhillips too had to undergo two weeks of training to learn the dog and her commands, which are given in Dutch.
Fire meets the same standards as the Department of Defense bomb-sniffing dogs. Because one of the components is black powder, she can detect a gun or gunpowder and she once found located ammunition in a school.
Four chemical used in bombs can be found in the typical chemistry lab, and the dogs often signal on even trace amounts in those classrooms. The officer can clear the classroom after discussion with the teacher about recently handled chemicals, McPhillips said.
In addition to CISD schools, the canine units are sometimes called for assistance by other government agencies in surrounding communities, most recently to a bomb scare at the Walker County Courthouse. The canine teams often work beside canine unit from the Constable's Office and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents on these cases and often seek their help for more serious threats in large schools in the district. It can take a few minutes to several hours to clear a scene based on the seriousness of the threat.
If a real threat is detected, CISD Police call in the Explosives Ordinance Disposal Unit from the Houston Police Department.
While Fire is still in training, McPhillips said it takes up to a year to build the team, his former partner Marley had assisted during visits from dignataries, including Presidents George H.W. Bush and George Bush, First Lady and daughter Jenna and Barbara Bush, and a General Major for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Marley also helped check local voting booths during the election of President Barack Obama.
Fire searched vehicles outside schools on a daily basis and does internal searches when requested.
The Conroe Optimist Club adopted the canine unit as their special projects and holds a fundraiser annually to support the program. The club paid the entire $9,000 cost to bring Fire to the district and paid for a portion of Marley and her ongoing training. Marley won many awards from the American Working Dog organization.
Inaddition to the explosives detection dogs, the district has two drug-sniffing canine trained on four key scents found in illegal drug. They too patrol parking lots and schools on a daily basis and have found drugs in the school. The drug canines are often called out before significant student trips, like the Conroe Band performance at the Rose Bowl, to check for any contraband on the bus before the students depart.
The canine units also play roles in community outreach in the district. They are frequently requested at schools, day care centers, churches and Boy and Girl Scout Troops during Red Ribbon Week, an anti-drug events and for career days.
After providing a demonstration, the highlight of the event is often to pet the four-legged officer.
CISD CANINE TEAMS
The Conroe Independent School District has three canine unit to assist drug and explosives detections. The officer and dog teams sweep the exterior of schools on a daily basis and do interior searches when requested. Following are the three canine teams assigned to the 55 campuses in CISD.
Cpl. John McPhillips and Fire explosive detection
Cpl. Ken Rademacher and Hari Drug detection
Cpl. Ken Jolly and Snap Drug Detection
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