The Santa Monica Police Department has added a new canine to the team that will allow it to conduct sweeps for guns and other explosive devices like never before.
Most police dogs are known for their ability to apprehend criminals on the run or find stationary explosives in public places but Jack, SMPD’s newest canine recruit, can sniff out weapon parts, ammunition, carbon, gun oils, cleaning solvents, fireworks, black powder and several other components related to firearms from nearly 50 yards away.
Jack came to Santa Monica by way of Anniston, Alabama, according to his handler Officer Elaina Hassan, who has spent the last 12 years doing everything she can to ensure she would become Jack’s lifelong partner.
“To be a part of the canine unit, you have to not only show interest, you have to also take a bunch of different trainings on your own time — whether they’re related to explosives, canine-related apprehension or anything as far as dog-obedience behaviors,” Hassan said. “There’s really a plethora of different types of trainings because you have to put yourself against so many other amazing police officers. So, you have to kind of stand out.”
Since Hassan and Jack joined forces, the two have certainly stood out.
With so many events canceled during the pandemic, Jack is often spotted out on the pier or in shopping areas like Beverly Hills with nose and tail in the air.
“Vapor Dogs are able to track and sense while moving, instead of while static,” which is what most explosive detection dogs are capable of, according to Hassan. “They can locate an explosive if they are in the vicinity. But with my dog, he can actually locate you if you’re walking on the pier or the Promenade and you have a gun in your waistband or maybe some other explosive. He can actually distinguish that odor from all other odors, and as you’re walking through, he can pinpoint which person has it. So, if I give him the command to search, you’ll see his nose go up-and-down and side-to-side… it’s kind of like a scent funnel. He starts wide and he makes sure the scent is getting stronger and stronger and stronger.”
Jack is just like a normal dog in the fact he lives and plays with Hassan and her other four-legged friends at home. His favorite toy is even a blue and orange ball that looks very similar to ones found in pet stores around the country.
“The main difference is the obedience with these dogs is very basic, because you want them to be as independent as possible so they follow their nose,” Hassan said. “They are completely dependent on the scent.”
Outside of that, like most Labradors, Jack is a very social dog who happily greets passers-by while out on his patrols and day-to-day walks. “He’s a perfectly normal dog at home. There’s no issues whatsoever,” Hassan said, detailing how Jack often gets excited to put on his uniform — a harness featuring SMPD patches — and head out to work.
Another thing that sets Jack apart from the rest of the pack is his handler’s belief that the pair could run the U.S. Canine Biathlon.
“It’s back at the Vapor Wake facility in Anniston. It’s about four-plus miles and 40-plus obstacles that myself and Jack go through,” Hassan said. “And I think we can win it. We just need the opportunity.”