Military and Police

Bipartisan Congress Chomps at Chance to Harness Homegrown Police Canine Legislation

In unity, a bipartisan congressional effort took the reins and ran with a good chunk of law enforcement legislation to harness police canines…right here in the U.S. of A. Called the Domestic Explosives Detection Canine Capacity Building Act, a unified effort between both Democrats and Republicans resulted in a co-authored bill which seeks to also make America great again. (More on the MAGA aspect in a moment.)

In a nutshell, the Domestic Explosives Detection Canine Capacity Building Act introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers (R—AL) is designed “to establish a working group to determine ways to develop a domestic canine breeding network to produce high quality explosives detection canines, and for other purposes.” The bill designates authority to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) which will be responsible for constructing “ways to develop a decentralized domestic canine breeding network to produce high quality explosives detection canines and modernize canine training standards,” right here in America.

Traditionally, a high percentage of police canines are purchased from and shipped by foreign countries’ breeders. From what I found, most of these overseas breeders’ dogs are purchased by American security agencies sight unseen. That’s an awful lot of trust in foreign vendors selling us a hefty-valued product intended for imperative purposes, which we do not get to test-drive at all. Never been one for the Craigslist philosophy/method.

Especially bolstered by our post-9/11 era of terrorists and their propensity to use explosive devices in the name of Allah, the American law enforcement community —as well as other nations experiencing the same terroristic threats— has felt the need to increase its cadre of bomb-sniffing canines to thwart nefarious extremists and their planted explosive wares. Other countries feeling the same need means bomb-sniffing dogs are a supply/demand commodity driving costs through the roof resulting in sales to the highest bidder. That equates to we the people paying through the nose for the finest sniffers on the planet.

Goffe offers some enlightening factors with which we contend as taxpayers: “Government buyers [of police canines] find themselves in bidding wars with deep-pocketed international competitors. This limits the number of dogs we are able to purchase, and often has us losing out on higher-quality dogs, which are either retained by their European home countries or sold to the higher bidder.” Indeed, it is a business and has its catch-22s, culminating in a pay-to-play type schematic which keeps us in bondage to those breeders in other countries.

Even after all the business interactions with foreign dog breeders, who is to say it all pans out successfully? Sometimes, when all is said and done (and fully paid for), the acquired canine underperforms and washes out of the initial police K9 unit indoctrination, becoming a total bust and someone’s best friend at home. Without direct control along the entire acquisition process entailing canine breeding, training and molding establishment, we are gambling with tax money and lining the pockets of breeders who live abroad.

Much like President Donald Trump has done with pretty much every industrial material or organic product engendering trade with other nations, bringing costs and acquisitions under control defaults to producing resources right here in the United States. Why not include police dogs?

The Act calls for a consortium representing professionals with respective expertise in Homeland Security, animal husbandry, academia, and veterinary medicine to organize a blueprint whereby America can breed, train and sustain its own pool of law enforcement canines. An inherent other benefit to doing our own thing is significantly chopped costs impacting taxpayers when our federal government goes beyond borders for police canines, in essence spending exorbitant amounts to acquire dogs for national security purposes.

Writing for The Hill, vice president for government relations for the American Kennel Club, Sheila Goffe nut-shelled it quite well: “Despite technological advances in almost every facet of security, when it comes to explosives detection, dogs remain the most accurate, cost-effective, and reliable way of locating explosives. As a result, law enforcement agencies across the world are in heated competition to acquire the most suitable dogs for these tasks.” Stemming from foreign markets being the go-to vendors of police dogs, we just do not get the pick of the litter without jockeying and ponying-up whatever prices the foreign breeders command.

Moreover, as Medill News Service reporter Elizabeth Strassner wrote in October 2017, “When it comes to foreign-bred dogs, therefore, security agencies have little knowledge of the environment these animals experienced during a critical stage in development.” Supporting that notion, UPenn researcher Cynthia Otto testified before the Oversight and Government Reform and Homeland Security committees that “disease, inbreeding and a lack of exposure to a wide variety of environments” is a forfeited control when it comes to acquiring police dogs from foreign breeders.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Otto oversees the Vet Working Dog Center and, as such, renders concrete analysis which likely compelled Congress to overhaul canine breeding facilities operating on American soil. Otto claims their program commences dog training at eight weeks old, leading to the importance of trainers being “able to mitigate a lot of problems that keeps dogs from being successful, like environmental sensitivity.” This cycles back to the point Goffe made earlier, about some foreign-bred canines arriving in America and washing out entirely from any field-worthy intentions and use.

Once, my department encountered such a critter from foreign soil, a canine whose temperament was so high-strung, frenetic and unrelentingly noisy that, when on scenes, it was anyone’s guess what the outcome would be. His handler was noticeably uptight and out of sorts when “working,” just not his usual self. Frankly, the foreign-born dog was a timebomb whose police service was eventually abbreviated. Perhaps that description exemplifies what Otto and others attest regarding dogs from non-native environments.

Naturally, every law enforcement entity wishes the top-notch specimens at a fair price. I recall when my agency was in the market of adding another police canine how seemingly hush-hush the cost would be. We were just happy to know we were getting a highly trained, robustly healthy and comprehensively skilled police canine from a breeder located in the Czech Republic. Most of us were rather myopic, like kids getting a new toy who could care nothing about the price-tag Yay, we’re getting a new dog! never even questioning why importation from afar was necessary.

Goffe fills in the blanks regarding such constructs: the federal “government also engages in practices that work against American breeders. For example, the government usually will not purchase dogs that are younger than nine months; most American breeders are not equipped to house a dog past 12 weeks. For small breeders, this makes the costs of dealing with the government prohibitive.” When I initially read that, my first thought concentrated on how much adoration President Trump has for first responders and our military forces. My thoughts transported to the many revelations regarding the Trump administration harping on not only the free market but how enterprising here at home makes America great again in myriad ways.

Not only is the American law enforcement institution impacted by the foreign markets monopolizing police canines but the U.S. armed forces and military work dogs are feeling the same pinch. According to The Hill, “The Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security source up to 90 percent of their dogs from European breeders, one of our few vital security needs that is effectively outsourced [emphasis added].” It sure doesn’t have to remain that way, and that is what our government is trying to overcome by this Act and other measures coming down the pike. (Stronger punishment for those who ambush/kill cops is gaining momentum…separate article to follow.)

Another antithetical factor which the Act seeks to overcome is what I would define as the Mom-and-Pop ingredient: the breeders who operate here in the United States are deemed too small to effectively compete for and win bids from the federal government buyers of police canines. Goffe said American breeders are “small-time operations” which are disadvantaged by not having the acumen of dealing with the often complex machinations found in government purchasing and/or the ability to compete for federal contracts and procurements. Seemingly seen as a gargantuan challenge with minimal guarantees of victory, it is not inconceivable that many local dog breeders refrain from even trying to obtain status with federal bidding processes.

During my police career, I had the privilege to be exposed to the police dog breeder industry. I found the exact same prohibitions Goffe explained, and was left with the same notion we are discussing herein: Why doesn’t our federal government change that? Alas, members from both parties have heeded the call (bark).

Thank goodness for a bipartisan push to harvest (breed) our own police canines and maintain them right here on U.S. soil. Who knows, perhaps we can tap that free market and/or give those foreign entities a jolt while leveraging acquisitions for other nations hard-pressed to build their contingent of national security-oriented canines.

With the Domestic Explosives Detection Canine Capacity Building Act co-authored by Rep. John Thune (R—SD), Rep. Bill Nelson (D—FL) and Rep. Maria Cantwell (D—WA), we can potentially improve upon security sweeps at our nation’s airports, bus and train terminals, stadiums, political arenas, border crossings, any would-be target-rich venues…while also cutting costs and the proverbial middle-man who we may not necessarily ever get to meet in person. Business deals sealed with a handshake may be old-school but they have value.

Per Medill‘s Elizabeth Strassner, Congressman John Katko (R–NY) said “I think it would be great if we can get to the point where we stop importing dogs from Belgium or wherever else” and, instead, make it a streamlined process whereby police, military and security agencies can obtain working dogs from within U.S. borders.

Goffe commended the Act as written by congressional members who crossed the aisle and shaped a piece of pending legislation enabling “high quality U.S. dog breeders into the government’s process for procuring working dogs, as well as making that process more open and transparent. We commend Congress for taking bipartisan commonsense steps to protect our public spaces.”

The Act pends before the U.S. Senate after which President Trump gets to endorse it into law.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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