For one week each fall, the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center looks more like a kennel facility than a Michigan National Guard military training site. More than 300 civilian police canine teams assembled this year for the tenth annual National Association of Professional Canine Handlers skills workshop and conference.
During the workshop, NAPCH professionals provide refresher courses for handlers and their dogs on search and rescue techniques, dangerous and illegal materials detection, and alert and retrieval methods, and other courses. For the 2015 session, the 300 teams represented 26 states, Canada and the Netherlands.
“This training site cannot be duplicated anywhere,” said Terry Foley, NAPCH president. “These officers are getting training that they are unable to get in their own local jurisdictions. It is extremely valuable.”
The dogs are trained primarily in explosives and narcotics detection. They undergo a rigorous training schedule that includes endurance exercises along with skills development. Throughout the week at Alpena, officers and their canine partners can use 15 different training sites spread across the CRTC property. Some sites are set up for building searches (above and below ground, enclosed and open-air, single level and multi-floors) for narcotics or a variety of buried or hidden explosive materials. Other sites are arranged for tracking exercises, grid searches and aggression control. Officers and workshop staff alternate the occasionally dangerous task of wearing protective gear while posing as criminals who the dogs are charged with apprehending.
“To maintain the highest degree of performance, it’s important to continually expose the working dogs and their handlers to new environments and stimuli. As a team, we are fortunate to have opportunities like the NAPCH seminar in Alpena,” said Officer Shaun Porter, a member of the Michigan State University police department. “It provides new training environments and connects us with handlers and trainers from other areas who have different ideas and approaches.” Porter has attended three NAPCH seminars in Alpena with his canine partner, Justus.
Through its close partnership with Alpena CRTC, the NAPCH is able to provide invaluable training to local and international law enforcement agencies that otherwise would not be possible.
“It isn’t easy to construct an apartment building or to-scale sewer system for the sole purpose of training dogs,” Foley said. “With advances in law enforcement methodologies and changes taking place throughout the United States and the world in terms of crime and destruction, we need to change and adapt the training scenarios each year. We feel that this facility is the only place that has the ability to manage those scenario changes. This means we can give our members the best possible experience and keeps them returning each year.”
The next NAPCH seminar is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 30 – Oct. 6, 2016. Interested law enforcement agencies can learn more about the seminar and NAPCH by visiting www.NAPCH.org.