A few years ago, we learned a little bit about how the explosive detection dogs who keep Metro safe are trained. But what happens after they’re all trained up and ready to go? Do they just spend all of their time patrolling Metro’s buses, trains and stations, sniffing out danger?
Turns out, there’s a little bit more than that. I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with two of the specialist K9 teams who protect our system, and here’s what they really get up to.
Senior Officer Henry Solis has been a member of the Metro Transit Enforcement Services for 28 years. That means he’s been protecting Metro since Metro was known as RTD. In fact, his ties to transit go back further than his own employment. He grew up in Southern California as an avid bus rider, and his father is a retired RTD bus operator! His most recent K9 partner is a little bit newer to transit: Ivana is a sweet, highly energetic two-and-a-half year old Dutch Shepherd. Those of you who travel through Union Station in the mornings have probably seen them around before — because one of their jobs is to be highly visible.
“High visibility detail is meant to act as a deterrent. People who might cause trouble on the system spot us and turn right around,” said Officer Solis.
That morning, we spent time being visible in Union Station’s East Portal, and at the bottom of the stairs of the subway entrance. Ivana is trained to position herself downwind so that the breeze brings all sorts of scents straight to her. When she’s on the job, everything about her is alert. Her ears are up and her eyes are bright, and even though she’s lying down, you can tell she’s actively parsing every odor that comes her way. And if a suspicious smell floats by, Ivana will track the scent trail until it leads to whatever is emitting it. Then she’ll sit, and that’s when Officer Solis takes over.
Bomb dogs are trained to detect certain odors on items as small as bullet shell casings, so you can imagine anything even slightly bigger will catch their attention. And the dogs are always training. Each day, Ivana goes through “maintenance training” to keep her skills sharp, and twice a month the team participates in all-day explosives training.
Besides patrolling our stations, Officer Solis and Ivana frequently roll out to Metro’s various bus and rail divisions to make sure they are safe and secure. They also assist the Sheriffs with calls for service, or work special Metro events such as our groundbreakings, station openings and press events. And as if that weren’t enough, they also train with and assist other law enforcement agencies because a good dog is hard to find!
Even though they are kept pretty busy, Officer Solis and Ivana still make time to meet and greet Metro customers. During the short time I was with them, no less than 15 people came by to say hello, ask for directions and ask to take photos of the super adorable Ivana. Most times, Officer Solis is more than happy to oblige, but keep in mind that Ivana is still on the job, so please be respectful with your requests.
If the time I spent with Officer Solis and Ivana was fairly routine, my afternoon with Sergeant Justin Walter from the LASD Transit Bureau North and his partner Folti was kind of a wild ride. I met up with them thinking we would be going over some training exercises and patrolling El Monte Station, but instead we headed right out to a call in West Hollywood.
“Ninety-nine percent of our job is to keep Metro moving. Usually, just being visible is enough to deter would-be threats from happening, and our most important job is to do our best to clear each incident before it affects service,” said Sergeant Walter.
And that other one percent?
“We get a call asking for bomb dogs, we go.”
Out in West Hollywood, cars and buses were being detoured around the cordoned off area due to a report of an unattended package in a parking lot. Even with lights and sirens on, getting there was hard going — I thought cars would magically melt of our way, like in the movies, but nope. Traffic in L.A. can really be that bad, and that’s why it sometimes takes so long to clear an incident. Law enforcement takes each and every call seriously, which means following protocol, which means they absolutely have to wait until the K9s or Arson/Explosives Division arrives to pronounce the area safe. The incident was cleared shortly after the LASD bomb squad arrived…and just in time for us to respond to another call in Culver City.
During the car ride, Folti was calm and hardly bothered by the sirens. Turns out the German Shorthaired Pointer is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, so he’s pretty used to loud noises. Folty spent a year overseas with the Army, working to detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs). He returned to the States after sustaining a leg injury from a wild boar attack that took place while he was searching the road in front of a convoy. Luckily, the injury was minor, and Folti has completely healed and is happily working with Sergeant Walter.
In Culver City, police were cordoning off the street around a suspicious vehicle that had been called in because it was parked illegally, but had not been moved despite security advising the driver to do so. We joined local law enforcement in a staging area a safe distance away from the reported vehicle. Besides investigating a possible explosive device, bomb dogs also work to make sure the staging area is secure. It’s an unfortunate truth, but sometimes first responders themselves become a target.
Luckily, the situation in Culver City was resolved safely, and the road was opened back up. After a long afternoon running around L.A. County, the day wasn’t over for Sergeant Walter and Folti. Folti also goes through maintenance training each day, and there was still their usual tasks of patrolling stations, maintenance yards, trains and buses to complete. And of course, if there’s another call to investigate an unattended item, they’ll have to go. Folti good-naturedly takes it all on. At six-years-old, he’s not as rambunctious as Ivana, but he’s still got plenty of energy left to finish his shift.
Having a K9 partner is no easy task. Besides the standard duties and long hours that come with being a law enforcement officer, the officers have to learn a whole new way to communicate. The officers become responsible for keeping their canine partners happy, healthy and clean. Their uniform is often covered with dog hair and drool. And they have a partner whose paws definitely won’t be able to help with the paperwork. But neither Officer Solis nor Sergeant Walter would have it any other way. That doggy smell that permeates your life?
“You get used to it.”
“If You See Something, Say Something” — if you see an unattended item or someone behaving suspiciously on board the Metro system, you can report it by calling 911, 888.950.SAFE or using the emergency intercoms on board trains and in stations. You can also report non-emergency incidents with the LA Transit Watch app.
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Categories: Go Metro
Excellent article that I very much enjoyed. It is good we have this type of security with Metro which I did not know about. How many years do most of these type of dogs are able to do this type of work before they are retired? Also, do most of the retired dogs continue to live with their officers?
Thanks Rick! Most dogs are able to work 8-10 years, then they are retired for adoption…and yes, most of them are adopted by their handlers once they retire! In the unfortunate event that an officer is unable to adopt the K9, they are usually adopted by close friends or family. In more extreme cases, the dog may return to their training center, which will arrange for adoption, but it’s rare!
Writer, The Source
“Let’s try taking a look from a another perspective. After taking the Transit Terrorism Awareness Training session, we learn that areas with large crowds and lots of traffic, such as Disneyland or Union Station in this case, these places are typically targeted for the scale of harm that could be inflicted.”
True. In Japan, they had the Aum Shinrikyo Tokyo Sarin gas attack back in 1995.
As well as bombings in London (2005) and Madrid (2004).
LA can become a target of global terrorism much like any other big city in the world, much like Hong Kong can also become a target from extremists.
“With that being said, I don’t believe their attire is meant to be friendly at all. As stated in the quote, their job is to deteer those whose intent is to cause harm. Kind of like saying, “Hey, you bad guys better not do anything, because we’re prepared.” It serves more as a warning, and allows them to be prepared in case anything were to happen.”
However, that doesn’t mean cops can’t be friendly nor give them an excuse that they can start wearing attire and acting like Nazi Gestapos where people are treated on the assumption of “guilty before proven innocent.”
You don’t see cops with full tactical gear in places like London, Tokyo, Madrid or Hong Kong transit systems, despite having a history of domestic and foreign terrorism.
You can’t deter terrorism just by looking “bad” and hardly anyone who is committed to carrying out acts of terrorism with suicide in mind is not going to be deterred the least bit about cops looking “bad.”
“Kind of like saying, “Hey, you bad guys better not do anything, because we’re prepared.” It serves more as a warning, and allows them to be prepared in case anything were to happen.”
With that in mind, you don’t need cops in full battle gear to prevent this from happening. The more softer approach would be to do what every other city in the world has been doing for quite a while now: opening up transit stations to businesses and retailers. They will add new sets of eyes from merchants and retailers working at the station and keep the station much more safer when there’s stuff going on there all the time. We don’t need to be spending so much money on cops with full battle gear when the more logical and perhaps, in the best interest of Metro, more revenue making approach is to open up the stations themselves to free market enterprise.
i still dont understand why the metro sheriffs have to dress like they are going into battle – not the most friendly approach.
‘“High visibility detail is meant to act as a deterrent. People who might cause trouble on the system spot us and turn right around,” said Officer Solis.’
Let’s try taking a look from a another perspective. After taking the Transit Terrorism Awareness Training session, we learn that areas with large crowds and lots of traffic, such as Disneyland or Union Station in this case, these places are typically targeted for the scale of harm that could be inflicted.
With that being said, I don’t believe their attire is meant to be friendly at all. As stated in the quote, their job is to deteer those whose intent is to cause harm. Kind of like saying, “Hey, you bad guys better not do anything, because we’re prepared.” It serves more as a warning, and allows them to be prepared in case anything were to happen.
These days, the possibilities of a threat occuring are much higher; especially in densely populated areas. So better to be safe than sorry. Just my two cents. Apologies if my explanation was rather long!
Two words: Police Militarization
We’ve taken this who Patriot Act and “it’s all in the name of safety” thing way too far.
“So better to be safe than sorry.”
I take this person’s wiser words over yours: