The canine (K-9) unit of the Hutchinson Correctional Facility exists not only for escapes and contraband searches within the prison system, but is available to assist police and sheriff departments within reasonable proximity of Hutchinson.
In the decade that this unit has been in existence, we have had a great deal of success. However, in critiquing our unsuccessful runs it is apparent the majority of these were destined to fail before the dogs were dispatched. It is with this in mind, that we are attempting to better manage this program to get the maximum benefit from the dogs.
No one likes the thought of placing a dollar value on public safety. As stewards of the monies appropriated to us, we are, however, faced with the dilemma of choosing between a number of programs of equal importance. Consequently, it has become imperative we increase the efficiency of the program by declining a request if there is little or no chance of a successful run. The dogs are a tool that cannot be equaled in many circumstances; however, they cannot work miracles.
In order to properly utilize the canine unit to its full potential, certain guidelines have been established which will help the dogs succeed in their efforts.
Because of the number of individuals involved in an initial search, the following points must be adhered to if the dog team is to be successful:
- Request assistance as soon as possible.
- Secure the area from all unnecessary foot or vehicle traffic.
Do not handle or disturb potential scent articles.
If we can have this assistance at the beginning of the search, the dog team increases its chances of locating the person. The following information provides guidelines which will help you better understand what needs to occur before you call a dog team.
- Bloodhounds and handlers are on 24-hour call and will stay with you as long as you need them. All suggestions that would be of help to you or your department in the future use of bloodhounds should be reported to the head trainer. The handlers and their bloodhounds are there to assist you in your hunt in any way they can. They are not there to take over your hunt, but remember they have considerable training in the field and the handler will know the potential and the limits of his bloodhound.
- Have a good description of the suspect for the handlers. Give a complete and accurate description of height, weight, build, race, clothes, shoes, coats, hats, etc.; if the suspect is armed; and if known, the type of weapon.
- Many times police officers will leave their vehicles running. Make sure all officers turn off their vehicles and keep exhaust fumes clear of the area to be searched by the bloodhounds as exhaust fumes can destroy scent.
- If you are the first officer to arrive on a scene where bloodhounds are to be used, you must protect the scene from any other scent. If the suspect has exited a vehicle, do so with as little contamination to the rest of the area as possible. Do not search the vehicle at this point. There will be plenty of time to do so after the dogs have finished getting a scent from inside the car or truck. Do not let others go near the vehicle or have the vehicle moved until the dog team has finished. The team will use the last scent on the vehicle to "scent the dogs". Turn off your own vehicle to keep down the exhaust in the area. Strong exhaust fumes will cause a dog not to trail or be unable to pick up the scent. The most important thing for the officer to do at this point is seal off the area and not let others enter and contaminate the search area.
- The first officer on the search scene needs to keep the area free of any other scents. This means you will have to protect the crime scene from all persons who wish to enter. If you are able to do this, the dogs will have a better chance of following a successful trail. The handler should be the only person allowed into the search area to ensure only the suspect's trail is present. It is difficult for the bloodhounds to interpret several scents at once; the trail becomes difficult to follow and the dogs may follow the scent of a police officer that was at the scene. The handler will preserve evidence at the scene (prints, etc.)
- Time is of the utmost importance. You may hear of trails being followed that are 7 to 10 days old. Do not count on this happening. Trails that are several hours old are not much of a problem for a well-trained bloodhound if you have done your part in protecting the crime scene area from contamination. Bloodhounds can follow most trails very easily if the conditions are right.
- Windy days, freshly plowed fields, barnyards, and heavily traveled roads may give the bloodhound a problem. Have faith in the dog. Even with these problems, the suspect has a starting point and a finishing point - let the dog work.
- Do not touch any item left at the crime scene. The bloodhound may need it to "scent". Do not pick up guns, clothes or any abandoned items at this time. To preserve scent, the handler will place a small gauze over a scent article for 15 - 20 minutes to lift the scent. He will then place the gauze with the scent into a sealed baggy. This scent sample will be marked and used for re-scenting the bloodhound on the trail or for a positive identification when the suspect is captured. The handler has had extensive training in preserving crime scenes and will not disturb fingerprints or other evidence. Many crime scene identification problems can be resolved if these instructions are followed.
- The bloodhound follows scent and not tracks. The tracks do tell the handler this is the correct trail to follow. Casts of the tracks should be taken after the handler has lifted any scent with gauze. Casts of tire marks, etc., should be taken as per any other crime scene search.
- A bloodhound following scent will often follow a trail over a hundred feet from where the suspect's tracks were found. You will hear remarks from novice officers and on-lookers about how the dogs are not on the trail because they are not following the suspect's tracks. Scent is emitted from the entire body, much like mist or smoke. A good example would be to watch a cigarette being smoked and watch the smoke blend into the atmosphere. This is similar to what happens to scent when it comes off your body. The scent will often settle to the ground in pockets, sometimes referred to as "puddle scent." When a dog comes upon a puddle scent he will show a great deal of interest. Scent settles against trees, fence posts, buildings, low places, etc. It is sometimes necessary for the dog to turn over leaves to locate the scent. Many times the scent will travel some distance from where the subject actually walked. The dog and handler will run side to side, referred to as a "cast", into the wind in an attempt to pick up scent from the subject. It may be necessary to run several casts, consequently it is important to keep all persons out of the area.
- Bloodhounds are very gentle dogs and will not bite unless the dog has been trained to do so. We use only purebred, registered bloodhounds who are not vicious. These same dogs are used to track lost children. Some penal institutions do use a hound "cross" which has been trained to attack at the end of the trail; however, we do not. Bloodhounds are silent trailers and will usually bark only on command. If a trail suddenly gets "hot", the dog may give off a few bays. The officers, handlers, and bloodhound may be right on top of the suspect before he knows he is being trailed.
- You, as a law enforcement officer, will be required to guard both the handler and the bloodhound from harm. Keep your eyes open and keep up with the team. If you are not in good condition, let another officer, who is, follow the bloodhound team. Stay behind the dog and handler and do not crowd too close. The handler may need to "restart" the dog if he should overrun the trail. Be close enough to protect the team and to return fire if fired upon. Many times, a handler may run several trails from an area to see if there is anything else there. Remember, your job is to protect the dog and handler from harm!
- The bloodhound must complete each trail he starts. We request that should a fugitive be located in front of the dog, he be kept there until the dog team arrives so the bloodhound can have the feeling of finishing the trail and "winning", much the same way a police officer who starts a trail of a fugitive likes to be in on the capture. The training of these dogs is a never-ending process and this is an important part of the dog's training.
- Family scent is strong and everyone in a family has what is called "family scent". They all have a somewhat similar smell; however, there is a different smell for everyone too. Jails, hospitals, penal institutions, etc., have what is called "institutional scent". All of the people there smell somewhat alike. It is important we be able to get the correct scent from the person we are looking for if we are to be of any assistance to you.
- If you have to get a scent item from someone else, make sure the item belongs to the suspect we are looking for. Many times the scent item provided has been contaminated by other members of the suspect's family or is from the clothes hamper where it is embedded with the scent of other family members. The scent item may be further contaminated by the officer handling it, then placed on the seat of the squad car to be further contaminated. When this happens it is impossible for the bloodhound to isolate the correct scent. Try to select the item yourself and handle it only with a coat hanger. Do not handle this item with your hands, as this will make it difficult for the dog to tell who we are looking for. Place the item in a self-sealing baggy or a plastic trash bag that can be sealed. The bloodhound trails the scent given him and if you have not protected the item, he may follow any one of the scents on the item. It is very important that you have the right scent.
- Many times while searching for a lost person who has wandered off we find this person has a mental problem. If this is the case, look where he has gone before. Talk to someone who knows this person and get any information you can. Many times a person is found hiding from searches near the place from which he is missing. Look under beds, in closets, attics, out buildings, etc. The subject's scent will be strong in and around his home.
- If you request the dog team, it is necessary you provide specific information to the supervisor on duty who will relay this information to the dog handlers and to the Warden for final approval. Once the decision has been made, you will be notified as soon as possible whether the dog team is en route or not able to respond.
For any questions concerning our program, write:
Hutchinson Correctional Facility
Attention: K-9 Unit
P.O. 1568 Hutchinson, Kansas 67504-1568
or phone: 620-662-2321
If you are requesting assistance from the dog team, contact the Deputy Warden of Operations, or the Administrative Captain, between the hours of 0730 - 1600, Monday through Friday. All other times ask for the Shift Captain.