2001-05-30 / Front Page

Police Department Is Going To The Dogs

By Richard Gentilviso

"Find him!" Police Officer Walter Burthell commanded his partner, a two and one-half year-old pure bred bloodhound named Chase. After sniffing a hat belonging to a volunteer participant in a demonstration of the specially trained animal’s ability to discriminate scents and track people, even at Riccardo’s. Chase led Burthell to the back of the room and found the hat’s owner within minutes, to the amazement and delight of all attending the May meeting of the 114th Police Precinct Community Council.

Burthell and Chase were joined by Police Officer Veronica Hammer and Smitty, a three-year-old German Shepherd, as featured guests representing the New York police Department’s K-9 (canine) unit.)Smitty, unlike Chase, is trained for aggression and can attack on Hammer’s command or if she is threatened. There are about 34 dog handlers in the New York Police Department’s K-9 unit who train and maintain dogs for police work and emergency situations. The dogs live with their handlers, who are responsible for them 24 hours a day.

German Shepherds are one of the most widely known and popular breeds of purebred dogs in the world and for 14 years, until 1977, were the second most popular breed in the United States after the poodle. Descendants of herding and farm dogs, German Shepherds were methodically bred through the 19th century and are commonly trained to be army, police or guide dogs.

Hammer described Smitty as a natural red-head because of his rust coloring. Most of the dogs are obtained from breeders when they are one or two years old and then undergo four to six months of training, said Hammer. They are taught obedience and aggression, as well as agility in training sessions five days a week, eight hours a day.

In a demonstration of Smitty’s aggressive nature, Burthell simulated an attack on Hammer. Smitty instantly tore after him (dogs do not recognize the uniform), barking and growling, until Hammer, restraining Smitty with his leash, calmed him down.

Burthell said Chase was the total temperamental opposite of Smitty. Bloodhounds, an ancient breed of dog, are also large, weighting up to 110 pounds and going up to 27 inches in height. But their wrinkled faces and floppy ears certainly won’t scare a perpetrator. Instead the bloodhound is renowned for its scenting powers and is trained to track humans, but never to attack.

Chase, a pure breed from Wisconsin, came to the NYPD when he was eight weeks old and is used solely for trailing missing persons. Burthell said that German Shepherds are also certified trackers and can be cross trained to sniff narcotics or cadavers, but will pick up only the freshest scent while bloodhounds are able to seek only the scent they are given.

Chase has been on thousands of jobs over the past year and a half, according to Burthell, and has made several finds, including two homicide cases and a bank robbery. "His longest trail has been over one mile," said Burthell referring to a missing teenager Chase tracked down. Burthell explained there are over 500,000 skin cells shed by the human body per minute and any object, clothing, guns, brushes with human scent can be used by a hound to pick up the scent.

Dogs are spayed or neutered at the discretion of their handler. Burthell had Chase neutered when he kept diverting to poles on tracking assignments, male dogs being the only kind trained by the police department. "Females are more loyal and tend to stay back and protect their handlers," explained Hammer, who added that if males and females were mixed, "all we’d have was puppies."

Sergeant Jacob Brown and Police Officer Thomas Galanek received April Copy of the Month awards. 114th Precinct Commanding Officer Deputy Inspector James O’Brien said the pair responded to a 911 call from a woman who was robbed and raped in the vestibule of her apartment building on 30th Road as she entered it on Apr. 24 around 12:30 a.m.

According to a report in Newsday of Apr. 26 the woman gave the man all the money she had, about $70, and when he demanded more, she gave him her cell phone. When Brown and Galanek found that the cell phone had been taken, O’Brien said "The officers decided to give it a shot, to have the woman call the man on the phone and persuade him to come back."

About 40 minutes after the attack, according to the Newsday report, the man returned and was spotted about a block away from the crime scene by the officers who, based on the victim’s description, quickly arrested him.

O’Brien said the alleged attacker comes from the Bronx, although he did live within the 114th Precinct for a time, and was visiting friends. He has nine prior arrests, most for crimes committed in the 114th Precinct. Crediting Brown and Galanek with showing initiative, O’Brien said they were able to take this individual off the streets and did a great job.

In his crime statistics report. O’Brien said a decrease of about five percent was still in effect for index crimes year-to-date, but acknowledged what he called "rough spots" in the past two weeks with a rash of burglaries. Still, overall there were 46 fewer burglaries so far this year in the precinct, 94 fewer car thefts and four fewer homicides. On the down side, there have been 46 more felony assaults, four more rapes, four more robberies and 10 more grand larcenies, of mostly unattended property, this year so far, compared with last year.

A group of residents living in the Queensview houses complained of quality of life problems relating to the DNA CLub and another cabaret in the vicinity of 34th Avenue and Crescent Street.

Community Board 1 District Manager George Delis said a proposed new high school for 1,200 students at the site of the old Steinway bus depot would put five high schools in the community. The new Sinatra High School for Performing Arts is scheduled to open next year.

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