New MUPD member sniffs out trouble
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 02:10
Miami University Police Department’s (MUPD) newest officer is specially trained for detecting bombs, but his true love is chasing tennis balls and running around his backyard. Figo, a Belgian Malinois dog, is the new officer for MUPD’s K-9 Unit. His handler, Officer Keith Hibbard, has been working with this K-9 Unit since 2007.
“My background from the military was working with explosives,” Hibbard said. “I didn’t know anything about working with a dog. But I figured I had half the equation, knowing bombs.”
Hibbard started the job working with Ero, MUPD’s first police dog. Figo took over for him this summer when he retired from the job. Though Figo now calls Oxford home, he is originally from Holland is commanded in Dutch. It’s pretty common for police dogs to come from Europe, Hibbard said.
“In Europe, they have their own kennels and breeders who actually breed dogs for service,” Hibbard said. “They have a trait, a temperament [that’s suitable].”
A big part of Figo’s daily routine is his obedience training, Hibbard said. This is important because police dogs are required to be obedient in order to avoid liability.
“The last thing I want is for my dog to ever bite somebody,” Hibbard said.
The training includes following beside Hibbard, turning on command, sitting, lying and staying on command, even when his beloved tennis ball is thrown across the field.
“He likes to chase things, anything that moves,” Hibbard said. “I’ll throw his ball and make him sit, which drives him nuts, because the one things he wants more than anything is to chase the ball.”
Figo’s job is to detect explosives, especially in public places. According to Hibbard, MUPD Chief John McCandless wanted to prevent Miami being a “soft target,” or one which is undefended from attack, and McCandless was instrumental in starting up Miami’s canine unit. McCandless said with recent events like the Boston Bombing, universities and other areas with large populations of people have become less safe.
“Because we want universities to be open and welcoming, they are kind of soft targets,” McCandless said. “For the most part you can walk across Miami’s campus unimpeded and you could kind of be anybody.”
McCandless said the K-9 unit is a way for the MUPD to reduce the risk of being unprotected. The unit is funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security and works in conjunction with the Butler County Emergency Management Agency (EMA). Because of decreasing funding, Hibbard and Figo not only serve Miami’s campus but the whole southwest Ohio region, according to EMA Director Jeff Galloway.
But Figo spends most of his time around Miami’s campus. It is constantly being searched for explosives in order to keep it a safe place, Hibbard said.
“We do random spot check searches,” Hibbard said, “which means people may see us out just walking around campus, like we’re just out walking our dog, but actually, Figo’s always looking for explosives because that’s how he gets his reward. He could be going up and just smelling a trash can but he’s not actually looking for food; he’s been trained to go up and sniff the trash can for explosives.”
When a police dog finds his target, he displays an alert to his handler, Hibbard said.
“When he gets close to it, you see a change in behavior,” Hibbard said. “His body posture will change, he’ll drop into his haunches a little bit, his tail will start going back and forth like a rudder on a boat and you’ll hear his nose. His breathing just gets crazy fast… when they find the source of the odor, they sit down and they stare at you.”
McCandless said both Ero and Figo have been a great fit for Miami’s campus because of their ability to interact with people.