Cold-case ca­nines

Al­berta RCMP are one of the first po­lice forces in Canada to train dogs for de­tec­tion with real hu­man re­mains, pre­par­ing them for ev­ery­thing from a ter­ror­ist at­tack to an un­solved death.

Metro Canada (Edmonton) - - News - kevin maimann/metro ed­mon­ton

The first RCMP dog teams to be trained for de­tec­tion with real hu­man re­mains are wrap­ping up their work in Al­berta this week.

Sgt. Robert Hep­pell, the RCMP dog team trainer in charge of the ex­er­cises, said they are the only po­lice force in Canada to train us­ing real hu­man tis­sue. Ed­mon­ton’s RCMP K Divi­sion is one of four di­vi­sions to take part in the training ex­er­cise.

“What we had to do was teach them the unique scent of hu­man de­com­po­si­tion,” Hep­pell said. “There’s a baby-step process they go through to ac­tu­ally learn the iden­tity of the scent.”

Of­fi­cers used tis­sue from hu­man skin, mus­cles, brains, liv­ers and lungs at their training cen­tre in In­n­is­fail.

Once the dogs learned to rec­og­nize the scent, they started training in more re­al­is­tic en­vi­ron­ments.

Dogs are seek­ing out re­mains hid­den in the for­est, buried un­der­ground, el­e­vated in trees, and in the midst of a “dis­as­ter zone” that sim­u­lates a tor­nado, earth­quake, gas main explosion or ter­ror­ist at­tack.

“Cur­rently we’re us­ing pri­vate com­pa­nies that col­lect waste, such as used con­crete pil­lars and things of that na­ture, and we’re us­ing their fa­cil­ity to sim­u­late a dis­as­ter zone,” Hep­pell said.

His­tor­i­cally, RCMP dogs have some­times been able to find hu­man re­mains, but have not had for­mal training to do so.

With this new training, Hep­pell said the chance of find­ing re­mains in un­solved deaths has greatly im­proved.

“It’s an in­cred­i­ble un­used tool that we’ve never had at our dis­posal be­fore,” he said.

Sgt. Jack Poitras, spokesper­son for RCMP K Divi­sion in Ed­mon­ton, called the training new and in­no­va­tive.

“It’s a great as­set to have, es­pe­cially when we’re deal­ing with older files where … we do get tips for hu­man re­mains lo­cated or seen, and if they’ve been there for a while a lot of time they’re scat­tered by wildlife,” Poitras said.

“Th­ese dogs can find those pieces. So it sure saves a lot of time and gives you a lot of clues.”

Ob­tain­ing the hu­man re­mains for training is com­plex in it­self.

RCMP made a deal two years ago with Nova Sco­tia Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner Ser­vice Di­rec­tor Sean Mar­guer­att to oc­ca­sion­ally col­lect do­na­tions from peo­ple who have died un­ex­pect­edly, with con­sent of their loved ones.

The med­i­cal ex­am­iner has a team of nurses who speak with fam­i­lies of the de­ceased and, if they feel it’s ap­pro­pri­ate, ask if they feel their loved one would have wanted their re­mains to be used for training pur­poses.

Mar­guer­att said it’s never a whole body that’s used, but frag­ments col­lected dur­ing an au­topsy and shipped, usu­ally in ice, by RCMP.

“In some cases it may be a bone, so a bone doesn’t de­com­pose if it’s not re­frig­er­ated,” he said. “In some cases it might be just a cloth that we used dur­ing the au­topsy that has some bod­ily flu­ids on it that they would use for the dogs.”

RCMP have 166 dog teams across Canada that will be trained on hu­man re­mains de­tec­tion ac­cord­ing to the needs of each divi­sion.

Left: Po­lice Ser­vice Dog (PSD) Ge­nie con­firms the pres­ence of hu­man re­mains con­cealed within a training scent box. A re­ward is ejected from the box.

From left: cpl. tarala, with PSD Ge­nie, const. Venoit with PSD Doc, cpl. Gawne with PSD Ejay and Staff Sgt. Le­blanc with PSD henny.

ALL Pho­toS con­trib­utED/rcMP

Far left: PSD Ejay finds the pres­ence of hu­man re­mains hid­den in a tree.

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