Dogs have been closely associated with humans for centuries. There is a symbiotic bond between man and animal. Over the decades, dogs have begun to play an important role in supporting Police Officers in diversified roles.
In the middle ages, bloodhounds were maintained by constables to track down outlaws who often hid in dense forests. As London began to be transformed by urbanization, the crime wave grew rapidly to a point where the local constabulary could not cope with the demands of guarding the public. Soon men were recruited as night watchmen and provided with dogs, whose presence instilled fear among the criminal elements.
During 1869, the denizens of London were terrified by an elusive serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. This deviant soul roamed the fog-engulfed streets in search of women, whom he overpowered and killed. He cut up their bodies with the precision of a surgeon. The Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren was under severe pressure to arrest this manic murderer. Two bloodhounds were sent on duty to primarily chase and track down the Ripper. The first attempts were futile. The diabolic killer was never caught. Yet, the fact that the police could train dogs in crime prevention and detection was realized and thus began the birth of the Police Kennels.
It is said that during the arrival of Prince Vijaya to ancient Ceylon, the ruling Queen Kuveni had in her possession a set of trained dogs, one of which was sent with its handler to check the seaborne party of strangers. Thus our nation has had a long affair in domesticating and training dogs. In Sri Lanka, the Police Kennels Section was established in 1948 and its pioneer Officer- in-Charge was Chief Inspector Schokman. The first dog handler was one Bertrus who subsequently retired as an ASP.
Today, the Kennels Division is headquartered in the salubrious hills of Asgiriya, Kandy where the dogs have the right climate and atmosphere to train. The present Director is SSP Sisira Weerakoon, who counts 24 years of experience as a dog selector and specialist trainer who qualified in the USA.
He explained to me that the best working dogs are the German Shepherds, Belgium Malinois, Spaniels Rottweiler and the amiable Labradors. The Kennels have a strength of 203 working dogs who serve island wide in 54 units. Most dogs serve for eight years, after which their stamina and aptitude are evaluated and they are often retired. The tracking dogs require loads of endurance.
The expert sniffer dogs can detect and follow an array of scents covering a range of terrain. Cadaver dogs have the special ability to sniff and search dead human bodies which may be hidden in mud or even in polluted shallow water. The dogs have been persistently trained to pick up a scent from a tiny patch of blood. The narcotics dogs can search a fully-loaded container within two minutes and identify illegal substances. The training OIC, Sub Inspector Wellangiriya, emphasizes that the dogs are initially trained for three months. The police look for 22 drives (aptitudes) in a dog of which the ‘protection drive’ is the most important.
There are specialist guard and attack dogs that on command will pursue and subdue an armed criminal or terrorist, even under direct gunfire wisely evading the path of the bullets. Such dogs can be assigned to VVIP security details. The dog is trained to ‘hold on’ until the responding officers make the arrest. Explosive detection dogs provide a very vital duty in searching high profile venues and working alongside the search teams of the Police STF. The K-9 units are deployed at the airport to work with Customs officers and also deployed at prisons on request to search for drugs and concealed mobile phones. In the recent past, the Kennels division has trained 35 dogs in Sri Lanka in contrast to obtaining dogs from the Netherlands which has saved the department a substantial amount of finances.
Chief Inspector Priyantha Kulasekera, HQI of the Division says that equal training and attention is given to the selection of dog handlers. A police constable must first demonstrate genuine passion for his or her dog. They must also display the right kind of voice in issuing verbal commands. Communication between dog and officer is vital. They must work as a team. The role of the police dog is unique and cannot be replaced by changes in technology. They remain a key element in crime prevention and detection.