Anyone who drove by the Auburn Mall last night might have been shocked to see dozens of police and SWAT team vehicles parked there. Fortunately, there was no emergency.
A training exercise at the mall involved federal agents and more than 100 police officers and 20 police dogs from across Massachusetts. Data from the exercise will be used to increase security across the country, according to police.
The exercise, code name “Auburn Project,” was requested by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and designed by the Auburn and Boston police departments.
Joining ATF and U.S. Department of the Interior agents at the mall last night were U.S. Air Marshals and police from Boston, Auburn, Worcester, Quincy, Chelsea, Everett, Hanover, Revere, New Bedford and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
There were also officers from the Central Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council training inside the mall in conjunction with the K-9 officers.
Dozens of uniformed police swarmed throughout the length of the mall, while police dogs searched the mall inside and a row of school buses outside.
Officer James D. Ljunggren, Auburn’s K-9 officer, said ATF members kept detailed records of every aspect of the operation to help determine how many dogs are needed to find explosives hidden in a school bus, mall or other large building or vehicle.
Officer P. Troy Caisey, head dog trainer at the Boston Police Department, said “canine explosives-training devices” were hidden in school buses and in the mall, where police tested dogs facing distractions including scents left by thousands of shoppers and cooking odors in the food court.
“Every dog hit the odor every time. This was an invaluable experience. It was good to get the dogs out of the Boston area, which they are used to,” Officer Caisey said.
There as observers were state Rep. Paul K. Frost, R-Auburn, and state Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury.
Mr. Frost said, “Seeing local police and federal agencies coming together to train on such a massive scale is great. Thanks to the Auburn Mall for allowing this during their busiest season.”
Mr. Moore said, “This is a wonderful program. With dwindling state resources, we need to encourage regionalization. This is a perfect example of how the state’s 20,000 municipal police officers can share resources.”
Auburn Police Chief Andrew J. Sluckis said many of the explosives-detecting dogs and vehicles were paid for by Homeland Security grants, and said Mr. Moore and Mr. Frost were instrumental in helping Auburn get its grant.
He said that Officer Ljunggren has worked regularly with other departments when explosives are involved.
“He went to Boston to help in the church at Sen. (Edward) Kennedy’s funeral. There were four presidents, the vice president, senators and representatives there,” Chief Sluckis said.
Just last week, Officer Ljunggren traveled to Quincy, where explosives were found in a residence. Last year, Quincy police helped search Auburn Middle School when a bullet was found, Chief Sluckis said “These days, sharing resources is vital, “ Officer Ljunggren said.
He thanked the Auburn Mall, which closes at 6 p.m. on Sundays, for allowing police to stage training there, and said, “This is the largest Homeland Security operation ever held in Central Massachusetts. The information learned here will help across the state and the country.”
Domenic Schiavone, mall manager, said, “Our partnership with public safety is key. We’ve had smaller training exercises, but nothing like this.”
Officer Ljunggren said drug dogs must be trained once a week.
Explosives dogs are trained every day, only receiving their daily meals when they find the explosives scent.
Only three police officers in the state are certified nationally as explosives detection dog trainers. They are Officers Caisey and Ljunggren and Worcester Police Officer Stephen C. Cortis.
Officer Ljunggren said, “If a drug dog makes a mistake, someone might get away. If an explosives dog makes a mistake, there can be a disaster. We need them to be close to 100 percent.”
The Enfield Police Department recently paid a visit to students at Bay Path College to educate students about K-9 units. The Department’s K-9 Unit informed criminal justice majors, and students involved in the CSI Bay Path Club, of the role police-trained canines play in investigations. The students attended a classroom presentation, which was followed by a live demonstration on the Longmeadow Campus.
K-9 Officer Christopher Moylan with K-9 Niko and K-9 Officer Brian Croteau with K-9 Promise demonstrated the dogs’ talents in tracking and apprehending people and narcotics detection. Niko, a German shepherd, is dual-trained, yet specializes in tracking and apprehending people, while Promise, a yellow Labrador retriever, is trained in narcotics detection. The officers discussed the selection of the dogs, the training of the officer and the dog, and the rigorous daily schedule that must be maintained. They also discussed the dogs’ work and tied in police procedures and applicable laws.
“It is this type of event that brings the curriculum to life. Students who have an interest in law enforcement and a love of dogs were able to see how these two passions can come together and make for a fulfilling career,” said Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Sheila Foley.
The event was sponsored by Bay Path’s Criminal Justice Department, CSI Bay Path Club, and Campus Public Safety.
West Columbia Police Department’s newest officer doesn’t accept pay for his work. He only wants to chase a yellow tennis ball.
The department welcomed a K-9 named ZZ to the department last week, and the toss of the ball is his reward for finding narcotics or tracking someone.
While the ball is fun for the 16-month-old German shepherd, he is serious about his work, officers said.
“He’s a hard-working dog,” said Alfred Peña, who shares K-9 duties with Sgt. Larry Odom. “That’s what we wanted.”
To demonstrate ZZ’s abilities, officers hid a bag of narcotics in a car used by the police department. With a few commands in German, ZZ furiously ran the length of the car before stopping at the back passenger door. He then sat and whimpered once.
“He’s never missed anything,” Peña said.
As an officer walked to put the narcotics up, ZZ’s eyes followed him.
“He never took his eyes off of it,” said Laura Glaspie, dispatch supervisor.
The department has been without a K-9 unit for several years, Chief Michael Palmer said. It’s hoped bringing one back to the city will help police find drugs on traffic stops and in homes they are searching, Palmer said.
“We’ll also be assisting other agencies,” Peña said.
ZZ originally is from Germany and he was trained in Mexico. Peña uses German commands when he directs ZZ on a search so he won’t hear conflicting commands from others in English.
“It keeps him from getting confused,” Peña said.
Only Peña and Odom will work with ZZ, and when he’s not working, he’s usually practicing, Peña said.
“We’re real consistent about training every day,” he said.
Peña said the cost to buy ZZ and attend a week of training was $7,000. The city allotted $10,000 to the department’s K-9 unit for the dog and to build a kennel.
West Columbia business owner Jimmy Adams bought most of the materials for the kennel, which sits on a lot next to the West Columbia Police Department.
“It’s been a variety of people paying for stuff,” Palmer said.
Many of the police officers also spent time building the kennel, Palmer said.
The kennel was built for two dogs, and Palmer said he might consider buying another one sometime.
“We want to show the city what he can do,” Palmer said.
ZZ showed his worth during a traffic stop on Thursday, within a few days of coming to West Columbia. Police signaled for a woman who had been driving erratically to pull over in a grocery store parking lot, Palmer said. They called ZZ to the scene.
“He found marijuana in the woman’s purse,” he said.
By John Tompkins
I think it’s pathetic that someone would kill an innocent animal like this. How nice of the church to step up.
We extend our sympathies to Officer Moxon on the death of his partner & pet.
Earlier this month, Officer Chad Moxon’s dog, Jimi, was stolen from his home then shot to death and dumped along the side of Culloden road.
On Sunday, Rock Springs Church in Milner is helping to replace his partner with another K-9. Jimi was a narcotics, cadaver and explosive detecting dog. Last week, Pastor Benny Tate heard Moxon’s sad story and decided his church could help.
This is one of the only explosive detecting dogs in our area,” Tate said. “The children in our area are not safe without this dog.” After Sunday services ended, members of the congregation gave checks, change and cash.
“I think it’s great, it’s nice to have a part in helping to get another dog. I have children that go to the school here so it is very comforting to know we are going to have another dog,” Melissa Baker said. Baker said she was concerned about the safety of the community with Griffin Police being down a K-9.
Moxon said the loss is having a big impact on his department.
“It’s made it a lot harder on the other K-9 officers because now they are having to pick up my slack. They are picking up weeks I am supposed to be on call. They are getting together to pick who is going to do it,” Moxon said.
Since Jimi was killed, Moxon has been able to raise $5,100 to buy a new K-9. The average cost runs around $ 8,500. The police dogs killer or killers have not been found. There is an $ 8,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest. Moxon said he is humbled by the community’s response. “I never realized people knew how important these dogs were to the community and how much of an asset they are to the police department and the community. As I see people today donating, coming up saying they are sorry, it makes me realize people do realize how important these dogs are. I am doing better [but] I still miss Jimi. I wish we could have him back and put someone in jail for this,” Moxon said.
Donations to help pay for a new K-9 can be made to the Griffin Police Department, 868 W. Poplar St., Griffin, Ga. 30224.
By Mike Paluska