WILKES-BARRE — When Officer Joseph Homza says his dog smells, he’s paying his K9 partner Chase a compliment.
The pair demonstrated their working relationship in the basement garage of the Wilkes-Barre police headquarters where 16 students in the Kistler Summer Program started their 90-minute tour last week.
“Who knows what we use the dog for?” Homza asked the kids lined up with their adult aides before him.
Yes, he captures bad guys, Homza agreed. But he described Chase as having a superior sniffer. “Their main purpose is for their nose,” he said.
Dogs can be trained to search for missing people, cell phones, bed bugs, cancer cells, you name it, Homza pointed out. “My dog is trained to smell five different drugs.”
Return to service
Chase, a 3-year-old German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix, is back nosing around after being reactivated last week following a six-month hiatus. Mayor Tony George ordered Chase to be taken out of service in January, following the dog’s biting of a police officer during an arrest. It was the third bite and the mayor wanted Chase and the department’s other K9, Skoty, to be evaluated to determine if they were suited for police work.
Skoty and Officer Daniel Roper still need some additional training for them to be placed in service. Roper was assigned to work with Skoty as a result of a settlement in an arbitration and has to be brought up to speed with the dog who had been paired with another officer.
The answer about Chase’s suitability was evident to the kids who watched the dog and Homza work together to find drugs hidden in the latch of a compartment of a police utility truck.
Back and forth along the truck Homza led Chase on a leash. The dog sniffed the tailpipe and hit on the rear compartment, sitting down in front of it.
“We trained him just to sit and stare at it,” Homza explained. “All I put in there was a cotton ball that was in a container that had drugs in it.”
The cotton ball had the scent of marijuana on it.
For the dog’s effort, Homza rewarded Chase with a squeeze ball to chomp. The officer grabbed the tail attached to the ball and tried to yank it out the dog’s mouth. His jaw was clenched so tight, Homza swung Chase around off the floor to the delight of the dog.
“He earned it so he’s going to keep it,” Homza said.
Eventually, Chase gave it up on the command of Homza who then directed the dog to attack the protective sleeve worn by Sgt. Phil Myers. Chase clamped onto it and yanked it off.
Tactics and tech
Officer James Fisher showed off the bulletproof vest worn by Chase and a medical kit Homza keeps in the police vehicle that he and the dog patrol in.
“He can be injured just like we can,” Fisher told the kids.
The tour shifted to the tactical gear Officer Jeff Ferrence said he uses as a member of the Emergency Services Unit. He displayed high-tech night-vision goggles and a two-wheeled robot mounted with a camera and low-tech tools such as a battering ram and pry bars used to breach doors and open windows.
The group moved to the firing range where Ferrence fired rounds from semi-automatic and automatic weapons and Officer Kirk Merchel gave a demonstration on the use of a Taser.
“This is what we call less than lethal,” Merchel said. Tasers are used in instances where deadly force is unnecessary and deliver a five-second burst of 50,000 volts designed to temporarily immobilize a person. “It’s a long five seconds,” Merchel noted.
The next-to-last stop was the holding cell area, far from a “Please Touch Museum” where a hands-on experience is encouraged. Fisher cautioned that even though the cells are cleaned regularly they should avoid touching anything.
Finally, the kids enjoyed cold drinks and snacks, compliments of Commander Joseph Coffay, in the training room.
Abdul Evans, 12, came away informed and impressed, especially with the cells. “It was great,” Evans said.
Ten-year-old Kyiah Wheaton had fun too. “I liked the cells and the snack,” she said.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.