MTA canine patrols to begin

Agency's two teams will search the transit system for explosives


The sight of a uniformed police officer with a bomb-sniffing dog could soon become routine at Maryland Transit Administration stations and on the MTA's buses and trains.

With the memory of terrorist attacks on European mass transit systems still fresh, state and federal officials held a news conference yesterday to announce that the MTA's police department for the first time will deploy its own teams of dogs trained to detect explosives.

Two teams -- each made up of a German shepherd and an MTA police officer -- will begin regular patrols of MARC trains, light rail and Metro cars and buses, transit administration spokeswoman Sheron Wicker said.

Previously, the MTA has depended on a sister agency -- the Maryland Transportation Authority's police -- to lend its teams, said David Kontny, director of the Transportation Security Administration's canine program.

TSA officials said yesterday that the federal government is providing the funding for three new canine teams for Maryland's transportation security.

In addition to the two going to the MTA police, the federal agency will cover the costs of adding one more team for the transportation authority police -- whose jurisdiction includes the port of Baltimore, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and state toll facilities.

The TSA launched a nationwide initiative to provide canine protection to mass transit facilities in August -- in part as a reaction to the 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191. Concerns about mass transit security were further heightened after four bombers struck the London subway in June, killing 56, including the attackers.

According to the TSA, Maryland's transit system will become one of about 10 around the country to receive federal assistance to train and operate canine explosives detection teams.

Kontny said the TSA has helped put about 400 canine teams in 77 airports. "We're excited about expanding this critical security arrangement to the mass transit environment as well," Kontny said.

After the news conference, officials put on a demonstration of the two new MTA dogs' skills at the BWI light rail stop.

MTA police Officer Donald Paige guided 2-year-old Rolf through an out-of-service rail car in which a "training device" -- made up of some of the ingredients used to make explosives -- was concealed.

Rolf clattered through the car sniffing through each empty row. Straining at his leash and panting heavily, he pulled Paige through the car until stopping before the seat where the fake device was concealed. There, after what appeared to be some prompting from his handler, Rolf sat -- the signal that he had picked up a suspicious smell.

Paige said Rolf had picked up the smell on his own. TSA officials said he might have been a bit distracted by onlookers.

"He's very hyper, he loves to work, he knows his job," Paige said. Officer Louis Jones said he was happy to be matched with Brix -- a more sedate animal.

Kontny said the dogs are trained solely to detect explosives, not drugs. He predicted they will be well-received by MTA riders.

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