Author: Sergeant Anthony Leonguerrero (with Catherine Jarboe)
Dogs and the officers who handle them have played a key role in the North Carolina correctional system for generations. The dogs’ keen sense of smell, agility, and accuracy, along with the specialized expertise of their canine officer handlers, has helped improve facility and community safety in several ways. Canines have an incredibly powerful sense of smell, which makes them highly effective in detecting drugs, explosives, firearms, and other illicit substances. They can search buildings, vehicles, packages, and open areas much faster and more accurately than humans and can track human scents over nearly any terrain.
“NCDAC has worked for years with the ‘tried and tested’ American Bloodhound to help track fleeing suspects, but in the last few years the help we get from our canines has greatly expanded,” said Chief Kenneth Smith. “In fact, the many ways our canine teams support public safety would probably surprise many people.”
The NCDAC canine program currently has more than two dozen canine teams (each with a trained canine and certified canine officer) and has evolved from simply tracking escaped offenders to creating positive outcomes within the community and increasing the safety of the state’s correctional environments.
The NCDAC canine program includes more than 50 highly trained dogs and 30 canine handlers including German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and American Bloodhounds. Each canine team (handler and dog) goes through extensive training to support specific needs related to search, detection, and tracking. Requirements for certification are rigorous, and ongoing training is required. Once certified, canine teams are deployed and serve across the state in a variety of key roles that support offender, staff, and public safety.
Search and detection: Regular searches of facilities have helped seize illegal and potentially deadly contraband. Narcotic detection canines and their handlers help disrupt the flow of illegal drugs inside facilities, while canines trained to detect guns, cell phones, and ammunition keep dangerous weapons and illegal devices outside the facilities.
Tracking: Some NCDAC canines are trained to track the scent of individuals and can follow a scent trail even if it's several hours old, through various terrains and weather conditions.
“NCDAC’s American Bloodhounds are best known for their ability to follow an escaped felon, their biggest impact is often the most heartfelt - as these canine teams are regularly called upon to help local law enforcement find missing children and adults,” explains Sergeant Anthony Leonguerrero.
Locating escapees: NCDAC canine teams have assisted in locating offenders who have fled prison facilities and are often called upon to assist local police and sheriff’s departments searching to suspects who have attempted to flee arrest or abscond from community supervision agents.
“We are really proud of our canine teams, who make a huge impact every day – inside our facilities and in communities across NC,” said Smith. “They don’t get much of a spotlight, which is fine with them, but they do deserve it.”