Dogs used in police work come in all shapes and sizes. Navy criminal investigators will use Jack Russell terriers and beagles for searches, since they can get into tight spaces on ships and submarines. Giant schnauzers were once used by police, and military security often uses Doberman Pinschers. For regular police work, though, it usually comes down to German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois.
All the dogs come from Europe, where they are raised specifically to be service animals. (In the US, breeding focuses on show qualities for the dogs.) The officer/handlers spend more time with their dogs than they do with their families, and there is a loyalty built between dog and handler. At their homes, the dogs are usually kenneled outside so they are used to the weather. They are not pets. The handler is the only one who touches the dog, to enforce his position as the alpha male of the team.
The dogs are incomparable in their search ability. If someone was hiding in a building, police officers would have to check every nook and cranny of every room. A dog can walk up to a door and with one sniff tell if there’s a person anywhere inside the room.
For the dog, the work is play. In a demonstration, an officer put out three backpacks, one of which had marijuana in it. His Belgian Malinois found the correct pack and sat by it. The officer pulled the dog away, and it went right back to the pack. It stayed until the officer gave the dog a tennis ball to play with, which was the dog’s signal the search was complete.
The dogs provide a definite intimidation factor. Where people might resist an officer trying to control a crowd, a dog is a different matter. (If the handler were attacked by a person, the dog will respond immediately to subdue the assailant.) But the dogs are special in use-of-force situations for they are the only weapon that can be recalled. When the handler gives the order to halt, the dog responds immediately.
Police dogs usually last about eleven years in the field before being retired. It’s hard for them to give up work, similar to Type-A personality humans. The handler leading the demonstration had a dog that was retired due to age. The dog couldn’t understand why he no longer went out on patrol. Within a month of ending his service, the dog passed away.
The first time a SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) team made the nightly news was when they were deployed against the Symbionese Liberation Army, the group that kidnapped Patty Hearst in 1974. Several members, including the leader Donald DeFreeze, where hiding in a house at 1466 East 54th Street in Los Angeles. The SWAT team engaged in a two-hour gun battle with the SLA, exchanging automatic weapon fire. The siege ended when the house caught fire and all of the SLA radicals died, either from smoke-inhalation or self-inflicted wounds. That incident inspired TV producer Aaron Spelling to create the popular Steve Forrest/Robert Urich series, that later led to the 2003 Colin Farrell/Samuel L. Jackson movie. The teams do use a large delivery van for carrying their equipment, but that’s about all the reality in the fictional stories.
Rather than waiting around to be called into action, the SWAT team members are all regular patrol cops who volunteer for this extra duty. They are on call 24 hours a day and carry their gear with them in their cars when they’re on patrol. When they’re called out, one or two officers will pick up the van from its parking spot at police headquarters, since it contains extra equipment they may need. There is one non-officer in the mix; the team has a medic (also a volunteer) who rolls out with them. The medic carries a duffle bag with him that contains just about everything he would need to administer care in the field.
The main armament they carry is the AR-15 rifle. It is light, compact, and highly reliable. Officers have their handguns as well, and a member of the team is trained to use a combat shotgun. Finally, the team has snipers who use the Winchester 308 bolt-action rifle. They do not use the laser sights that are so popular in movies. Laser sights actually interfere with their natural marksmanship, so instead they use regular sights and scopes.
They are also equipped with non-lethal weapon options. Tear gas and pepper spray rounds can be fired from a shotgun, or larger canisters are shot into rooms using a 40 mm specialty gun. The officers have Tasers as well. There are impact rounds that are fired by the shotgun. They’re about the size of a shotgun shell, with an end that’s similar to a Nerf ball. It will knock a person down without killing them, though it would definitely hurt. Along with flash-bang grenades that immobilize with light and noise, there are sting ball grenades. When those grenades go off, they shoot out 60mm rubber balls in all directions. They will subdue anyone within 25 feet when they go off.
The team members wear bullet-resistant vests that are festooned with pockets for carrying their gear. The vests actually extend down so there are plates protecting the thighs of the officers. The top left pocket on the vests holds the officer’s radio, which is hooked into a headset that they wear beneath their ballistic helmets. They place the earphones just ahead of the ears themselves, so they hear the radio through bone vibration. It keeps sound from escaping, so no one other than the officer can hear the radio transmission. Altogether, their equipment weighs around 40 lbs. They also use ballistic shields that are bullet-resistant.
To enter a room, they have a three-foot long heavy battering ram that can handle most doors. If they are faced with a heavy metal door that would resist the ram, they can call in the Bomb Squad (see below).
The SWAT team is perfectly trained to execute high risk searches or handle hostage situations.
Champaign is a rarity, in that its bomb squad is composed of officers from 2 departments – 3 from the Champaign police, 3 from the University of Illinois police. Members undergo 6 weeks of training by the FBI before they become bomb techs, and then they must complete a 1 week recertification course every 3 years. There are actually only 417 bomb squads in the US, and they are deputized as US Marshalls – they can be deployed anywhere. Like the SWAT teams, the bomb squad members are all volunteers who do this in addition to being full-time police officers.
A usual call out for the squad will be because someone has found old military ordinance and isn’t sure if it’s live or not. (Usually it was brought back from a war by a serviceman as a souvenir.) The squad has found some of those souvenirs to be live explosives. The next most plentiful call out is for pipe bombs – simple, small devices, including home-made fireworks. The scary calls are for car bombs, where a car is packed with explosives. In the last 18 months, there have been a dozen car bombs found in the US, and all except one were successfully interdicted. The one that wasn’t was the car bomb in Times Square that fizzled.
The bomb squad has an ambulance-size vehicle that pulls a trailer containing the unit’s robot and its control box. A robot costs $163,000 and weighs around 650 lbs. It can be remotely controlled and sent out up to around 300 feet from the van. The robot has multiple cameras on it, has the ability to go up steps, and can fit down the aisle of an airplane. The team has an X-ray machine that displays a digital picture that is used for checking suspicious packages. That costs about $30,000. Bomb suits run $22,000 and must be replaced every 7 years. A bomb squad is not cheap.
They use what are called disruptors to stop a bomb from functioning. The key ingredient is water. A small disruptor looks like a pint water bottle with a piece of detonation cord inside it. The water will ruin the electronics of a bomb, and if the bomb is hidden in a backpack, the disruptor can lay open that pack without the danger of setting off a booby-trap. The water carries the power of the det cord, but the power dissipates quickly. If the backpack was between two cars, the bomb squad could use a disruptor to rip open the pack and the cars would only get a little wet. The more water used and the stronger the charge, the more that can be done. With a large water drum and sufficient CR, they could take the back off of a panel truck without damaging the crew compartment. With two 1000 ml water bags, duct-taped together around a C4 charge, they could cut through a steel door without spraying shrapnel inside the room.
Pretty good for a water bomb.