CRIME

K-9 teams search Greencastle during regional training

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Rony, Greencastle's K-9 officer, tracked an escaped criminal, played by Ben Doukas from the Maryland Department of Corrections, during a recertification test.

Police cars were everywhere Thursday morning, Oct. 4. A row of vehicles lined the parking lot of Keystone Ford. More were spotted at First Assembly of God Church across the street from the elementary school, and again at Tayamentasachta, the environmental center. And the officers were accompanied by dogs.

They were not pursuing a bank robber. The officers and their canine partners were participating in a training exercise. Greencastle Police Department was represented by handler Keith Russell and Rony, his Belgian Malinois, who has been on the force since 2009.

The 20 teams also came from Washington County Sheriff's Department, Boonsboro and Hancock police departments, and the Maryland Department of Corrections. They split up to conduct two kinds of searches, indoors at the vacant Keystone site, and in the woods at the school farm.

"We're conducting our annual patrol dog recertification," said Major Greg Shumake, Md. Dept. of Corrections. "This is Day Four."

The officers were in Hagerstown Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 1 and 2, for obedience and agility testing. Wednesday they were at Hancock High School for an "active" shooting, and Friday they were to head back to Hagerstown for chemical agent exposure. That meant pepper spray.

"It's so their first exposure to it is not in the field," Shumake said. "It has little effect on dogs, but their handlers could get hit."

Shumake laid out the scene for Scott Buskirk, from the Wash. Co. Sheriff's Department. It was midnight and an alarm went off at the home of the building's owner. He came in and found the front door open, and heard a noise inside. He called 911. Because of budget cuts, Buskirk had no backup.

He opened the glass door and yelled a warning to the perp to come out or he would release Zeus, his dog. No response came, so the team entered. Buskirk drew a gun and directed Zeus' search pattern. They cleared the lobby, then went room by room. A half door was closed to one particular room, so the officer helped the K-9 over it. In the darkened space, he found the suspect hiding behind boxes.

At Tayamentasachta, the scenario was that two inmates had escaped from prison, stolen a car, and obtained weapons. They pulled up to the woods and one fled. The dogs tracked him quickly.

Shumaker said the animals rarely failed their recertifications, but if they did, remedial classes were offered.

Rony had a reputation among the gang. "He's awesome," said Shumaker. "We'd like to have him."

Russell was delighted with what he considered the highest compliment. In Hancock, while waiting his turn to enter the school, the chief of police got a real call. A child was missing. He asked Russell and Rony to assist in the search. Before they arrived at the destination, the youngster was located.

"Out of all the teams present, they called me and Rony to track. I couldn't ask for a better dog."