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Nose, teeth key tools for four-legged cops

Gabriel Galv6 watches officer Marshall Kite with police dog Gage sniff yard pick up scent burglar Tuesday Elgin. 
December 18

Gabriel Galvin, 6, watches officer Marshall Kite with police dog Gage sniff the yard to pick up a scent of a burglar Tuesday in Elgin. December 18, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Some notable past cases handled by Elgin K-9 teams

About four years ago, a patrolman stopped a car for a traffic violation. The driver, a gang member with an arrest warrant out for him, ran away. K-9 Officer Marshall Kite and his tracking dog Gage picked up the man’s scent at the car, then traced it through about 10 backyards until the trail ended at the door to a home’s basement. “He had just taken refuge in somebody’s basement where the door happened to be unlocked,” Kite says. “We called out, ‘Elgin police! Come on out!’ and the man surrendered immediately.”

About three years ago, a despondent man indicated to his family that he intended to commit suicide. His car was found parked along Duncan Avenue, near Trout Park and the Trails and Treasures restaurant. Kite and Gage searched through nearby woods and found the man sitting in the limbs of a tree, with a rope already around his neck. He was taken to a hospital for psychological evaluation.

About two years ago, federal agents had gotten word that a package being shipped to Elgin contained illegal drugs. Ordered to smell the package, Gage did “alert” that he smelled narcotics. Detectives obtained a search warrant from a judge to cut open the package. Inside they found various spices that likely had been intended to fool a dog’s nose, plus a tub of odoriferous mol

é sauce. Submerged under the sauce were four bags of cocaine.

On Nov. 1, several tons of metal had been stolen from a factory. Officer Travis Hooker and his German shepherd Deutsch picked up the thieves’ scent, followed their trail to a nearby home and found the stolen materials. Two men were arrested.

On Oct. 20, Unit for Special Assignment officers had stopped a car and suspected the driver might be a drug dealer. Hooker and Deutsch came out to smell it, and Deutsch alerted that he had smelled contraband in the trunk area. Police searched that trunk and found 19 rocks of cocaine. The driver was arrested.

On April 20, a car whose three occupants had just committed an armed robbery was stopped by Hooker and another officer. Hooker let Deutsch out of the squad car and ordered him to bark. The robbers were so intimidated by this vicious-sounding dog that they made no effort to flee or resist arrest.

— Dave Gathman

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Updated: January 22, 2013 6:19AM

ELGIN — The would-be burglar had smashed the window on the back door so he could reach inside and get into the attached garage. Only after he got inside did he realize that there was someone at home in the house — a woman taking a shower. He ran away, knowing she soon would be on the phone to 911.

It was time for Gage, one of the Elgin Police Department’s four-legged officers, to go to work.

“Being a K-9 officer is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week thing,” said Gage’s human partner, 16-year-veteran Officer Marshall Kite. “When you’re on duty, he rides around with you in the squad. When you go off duty, he goes home with you and lives with your family.”

Since Aurora decided recently to join those ranks, Elgin is one of about 10 police departments in the area to use trained dogs. The others are the Kane County Sheriff’s Office plus Naperville, Carpentersville, Bartlett, Streamwood, Hanover Park, St. Charles and Pingree Grove.

Police Cmdr. Glenn Theriault said Elgin has three dogs now, with differing capabilities.

Gage, age 9,

is a breed called “Deutsch Drahthaar,” or German wire-haired. His main tool is his super-developed nose. He is trained to smell the presence of hidden dope, to track a missing person or missing article (a gun or knife thrown into a field, for example), and to smell out whether a person is hiding inside a building or forest.

Gage also is the only Elgin dog trained to find a dead human body, even if the corpse has been decomposing for weeks under 6 feet of water.

The other two Elgin K-9s are German shepherds — Keiser, paired with Officer John Slocum, and Deutsch, paired with Officer Travis Hooker. They, too, can handle the search functions, except for cadaver searches. But they also have been trained to use their teeth as weapons to bring down a belligerent offender and/or defend their human partner.

Yet another skill — smelling out bombs and explosives — is so specialized that only Kane County and some federal agencies have dogs locally that can do that. Even rarer are arson dogs trained to smell remnants of accelerant in the debris at a fire scene.

Police departments frequently loan the use of a dog team to other departments that do not have their own.

Time for fun

As Kite and Gage roll up to the burglary site in a prosperous neighborhood on Elgin’s North Alfred Avenue, several other officers already have searched the home and are sure no burglar is inside. The woman who was taking the shower is inside, as is a little boy she picked up from school after she discovered the broken window but before she called 911.

The human cops are all business. But Gage is excited at the chance to have some fun with his master.

“To him, this is all a game,” Kite explains.


he says, can be trained to work for two kinds of rew ards — food or play. Gage was trained for play rewards. So as his nose tries to pick up the scent of the man who tried to break in, Kite periodically pulls a stuffed blue sock-like toy out of his pocket and lets Gage grab it in his mouth and play tug of war with him.

“It’s important to give him the play reward whether he finds the scent or not,” Kite says.

If the dog got rewarded only when he actually “alerted” and declared that “Yes, I have found the crook’s trail” or “Yes, there are narcotics inside this car,” the dog would be tempted to pretend he had found things that weren’t there in order to claim the reward.

After Kite issues the one-word command “Track!”, Gage gets down on his belly and sniffs the ground in front of the broken window. If he smells the trail of a human, he will “alert” by pawing at the ground. But with Kite holding his leash, they explore the whole yard and Gage seems to smell nothing out of the ordinary.

Theorizing that the burglar vaulted over the metal fence that surrounds the backyard, Kite then directs Gage’s nose to the top rail of the fence. But still Gage can lock onto no special scent. Gage won’t be leading the officers on any hot pursuit of a fleeing crook today.

“Two things m

ade this tough for him,” Kite explains. “The yard is full of dog feces from the family’s pet dog, and that’s distracting. Also, it’s windy and the woman didn’t call us until a half hour after the break-in. So the tiny flakes of skin that fall off a human and can be smelled by a dog may have all blown away already.”

Limited in court

Sgt. Chris Jensen, who is in charge of the Elgin canine operation, said a succession of court rulings dictate how a dog’s “evidence” can and can’t be used.

If Gage had caught the Alfred Avenue burglar’s smell and followed it to where the burglar lives, that fact would not be admissible in court as evidence against someone who lives there. A dog can’t be cross-examined on the witness stand, and any defendant has a right to confront his accuser. But it would give officers reason to question whoever was inside the home.

However, if a dog trained in narcotics detection “alerts” that a car stopped for a traffic violation has illegal drugs inside, that does give the patrolman probable cause to search the car.

The Elg

in dogs periodically are asked by school officials to search through all or part of a school’s lockers for the smell of drugs or guns. And what those school officials then find because of the dog’s reaction can be used in court, because the locker really belongs to the school, not to the student. But the search must have been requested by school officials, not by a police officer, and the search can’t be directed against just one specific l ocker.

All foreigners

Almost all police K-9s are male, Kite said, because females tend to bond too deeply with one human handler.

Like almost all dogs trained for American police, Gage, Keiser and Deutsch also were all born in Europe. Kite said that’s because European countries have stricter laws regulating dog breeding. A dog bred in the United States might seem to be pure-bred but turn out to have a genetic defect that would force its premature retirement.

And premature retirement is undesirable, because the cost of running a K-9 program is steep. Theriault said just procuring and training a dog and its handler costs about $15,000. Most northern Illinois K-9 teams are trained at a private school in Grayslake.

It also can cost $35,000 to adapt a police car or SUV to K-9 use. The rear seat must be removed; special climate controls installed so the car can be parked for a long time and the dog can stay inside; and a mechanism installed so that if the human officer is disabled or starts fighting with a suspect, he can press a button on a remote control and the car door will open mechanically, allowing his dog to get out and rescue him.

When it comes time to retire, typically because the dog has arthritis or some other condition that limits his mobility, four-legged cops don’t have a pension, exactly. But Theriault said the usual procedure for Elgin is to sell the dog to his human partner for $1 and let the animal continue living with the officer’s family until he dies.

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