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LSU Takes the Next Step to Increase Security on Campus

With a new semester underway, LSU students, faculty, and staff are gearing up to participate in the fun activities taking place this fall. From football games to Fall Fest, anxious freshmen, athletes, and die-hard fans will gather for all the excitement that LSU has to offer.

But with the frenzy of football season and other campus happenings, one may wonder how these events run so smoothly. Through the dedication of planners, coaches, and behind-the-scenes workers, a good time is in store for all. But more importantly, it is the efforts of the LSU Police Department, or LSUPD, in coordination with other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that keep everyone safe while the fun takes place, said LSUPD Chief Ricky Adams.

After the terrorist attacks to the United States on September 11, 2001, LSU began to look for ways to keep its students, faculty, and staff safe, especially when the crowds grow thick. Last year, Jerry Baudin, vice chancellor of LSU’s Finance and Administrative Services, attended a meeting of his peers in the Southeastern Conference and learned that the use of explosive-detection dogs, or bomb-sniffing dogs, was a great way to protect universities.

Baudin, along with the University’s public safety department and LSU Chancellor Sean O’Keefe, then researched the possibility of acquiring such dogs to protect the LSU community when tougher measures were required.

After several months of intense training and screening, LSU welcomed Mary, a three-year-old Dutch Shepherd, as the newest member of LSUPD. Since February, Mary has been working with her handler, LSUPD Officer Andrew Woodruff, and in June, Sendy, a two-year-old German Shepherd, was assigned to work with LSUPD Officer Jason Bettencourtt.

Choosing the perfect dog for this position takes plenty of time and effort on many individuals’ parts. The dogs are watched over and tested from birth to see what type of “working dog” they will become. Like all working dogs of their kind, Mary and Sendy were raised specifically to be bomb-sniffing dogs, whose duties include detecting explosives, materials used in making bombs, gun ammunition, and guns that have been used.

Woodruff said it does not matter the breed or sex of the dog, but the German Shepherd and the Dutch Shepherd are both known to be very obedient dogs with an intense work drive, which is beneficial for law enforcement. These dogs are also said to be loyal and loving pets and get along well with people. According to Bettencourtt, the combination of their personality and characteristics makes these dogs the most qualified to do their job.

“Working well with people is another great quality because so much of what they do is in crowded areas,” added Bettencourtt.

Once Mary and Sendy were assigned to work as bomb-sniffing dogs, they were brought to the United States from Europe and went through 12 weeks of rigorous training with different types of explosives they would later work with on a regular basis.

At the training facility, K9 Concepts in Broussard, Louisiana, each dog was taught the commands and signals to alert when something suspicious is detected. Since these dogs are “passive-alert” dogs, they were trained to immediately sit near the suspected evidence and wait for a reward from their handler. Although they are taught to sit at the site of evidence, each one has its own way of alerting its handler.

“You just have to know your dog to see the change,” Bettencourtt said. “Some dogs change their breathing patterns, while others give off different signals.”

In order for Bettencourtt and Woodruff to learn their respective dog’s different signals, they were also sent to the training facility in Broussard for a month of training with the dogs. It was essential that they were the ones to train with Mary and Sendy, since they are the only people who handle and care for these dogs.

“This is a mild-bonding experience with the handler and the dog to get the feel for each other and learn how the dog reacts to different materials,” Bettencourtt said. “There you pick up and learn what signals or signs your dog gives off when they detect something suspicious, like intense staring or heavy breathing.”

“Mary will just sit at the site and stare at me, and her tail will wag 100 miles per hours,” Woodruff said. “That is when I know she has found something.”

The intense-training experience at K9 Concepts is what gave the dogs their initial experience and grounding as a bomb-sniffing dog, but it is the daily one-on-one preparation with their handler that helps the dogs become superior at their work if a problem were to arise.

On a regular basis, the dogs go through four hours of training for five days a week around campus.

“For the most part, we go though two, two-hour sessions a day of obedience and search training,” Woodruff said.  “Sometimes we go into warehouses, classrooms, or around the Quad, but for the most part we are training in and around the stadium or PMAC, because that is where the dogs will do most of their work.”

During the day, when the dogs are not training, they usually stay in their handler’s police cars, which are well equipped to keep them safe. Each of the officer’s SUVs are specially made with a temperature-monitoring system to regulate the temperature inside of the car, keeping the dogs comfortable during the hot months in Louisiana.

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"If the car’s temperature reaches 87 degrees or higher, we are notified and report to the car immediately to fix the problem,” Woodruff said.

The dogs are taken out of the cars every hour or so to walk around, stretch, and use the restroom. They can also be taken anywhere their handler goes on campus.

“They go where we go,” Bettencourtt said. “If you see the dog in the Quad or in one of the buildings, it is just because we are there, and they have to stay with us.”

At the end of the workday, each dog is taken home with its handler. Just like everyone else, “they’ve got to have off time, too,” Woodruff said.

“When we are home, Mary is just a regular housedog. She does not have to go through any training, and she knows she can just relax.”

Once the officers received their dogs, specially made kennels were installed at their homes. Depending on the dog and the living situation, some work dogs may have to go straight into the kennel when they get to their handler’s home. But both Bettencourtt and Woodruff said their dogs get along great with their family and pets, and they are treated like the other housedogs when they are at home.

For the most part, the LSU Vet School handles healthcare and food expenses for the dogs, while the LSUPD handles other expenses, including the officers’ SUVs and the dogs’ kennels, Woodruff said.

“There is nothing that is paid for with student funds or fees for the dog-bomb units,” he added.

Since LSU acquired the dogs, there have been no emergencies for the dogs to report to on campus. They have, however, responded with state police to off-campus incidents, Bettencourtt said. Their main work will take place this fall before, during, and after home football games.

“We will do a search in certain areas of Tiger Stadium on Friday night, and then we secure the stadium and have officers work overnight to make sure nobody gets in,” Bettencourtt said. “On game day, we meet up with the Louisiana State Police, who also have two dogs, and they bring in bomb technicians. Then, together, we do a sweep of areas in and around the stadium.

“After the dogs are done with this search, they need time to rest, so we put them in the vehicles to cool down. We are then on standby and are ready to respond if a threat or suspicious package is called in. This could be inside or outside the stadium or anywhere on campus for that matter. We remain on campus with the dogs until after the game lets out and most of the people on campus have gone home.”

Additionally, the officers and dogs may be seen at other sporting events or large-crowd events such as Fall Fest or commencement. Also, if a high-profile person visits campus, the officers and dogs would work in a joint-task force with local, state, and federal agencies, including the United States Secret Service, FBI, Federal Marshals, and their dogs, Bettencourtt said.

Besides being specialized as bomb-sniffing dogs, Woodruff said, Mary and Sendy are good public relations tools, too.

“They are PR dogs,” he said. “We bring them around campus and into the community to teach students about the dogs and show what the dogs are trained to do. Our job is to let the LSU community, as well as the Baton Rouge community, know that we are here to help and are offering the highest level of security possible with the dogs here at LSU.”

Abigail Gravois | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Fall 2007


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