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Citizens Police Academy-week 9, part 2: EOD & K-9

After the SWAT team visit last Thursday, we had a presentation from the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team, a.k.a. the bomb squad, and the Canine Patrol Unit.

Fairfax has two full-time EOD officers and six supplemental team members, plus four canine partners. But is there really a need for an EOD squad? Yes! Here’s what they do.

Render safe. EOD is called on to render safe any suspicious package or suspected explosive device. They can use tools such as x-ray machines to determine what’s inside. “Render safe” is one of the most dangerous parts of the job.

Ammo/Explosives/Ordnance Disposal. After items like ammunition and explosives are done serving as evidence, they must be disposed of. Also, sometimes residents in the county call in items that they don’t know what to do with. The team burns or detonates the items, generally in an active quarry.

In one story, a gentleman thought he was rendering old Civil War cannonballs safe through a drilling process. (BTW, those are actually property of the US government, so not only was he being unsafe, he was breaking the law by not turning them in.) After drilling out the explosive powder, he was cleaning up the outside of a cannonball when a spark from the metal ignited material inside the 150-year-old ordnance, which exploded.

Unfortunately, he was working inside a circle of similar cannonballs and the EMTs couldn’t get to him until the munitions had been rendered safe. The man died.

Afterwards, the EOD team was flooded with calls from the restorer’s clients.

Assist other teams. The EOD team assists SWAT with all things explosive. They set breach charges and train the SWAT members in explosive breach techniques. They lend their robots for help with clearing rooms, providing surveillance, and communicating with the suspect in hostage situations.

The Fire Department calls on EOD to help with chemical Hazmat situations, and the police department taps their knowledge as subject matter experts for investigations of fires and bombings/bomb incidents. EOD also supports federal agencies as needed.

K-9 Sweeps/Searches. Highly-trained dogs are used to search an area for an unknown/unspecified threat. The EOD dogs—usually labs because they’re passive—can distinguish 19,000 separate explosive odors. To stay active on the force, they must ID an explosive with 100% accuracy during their recertification testing. (They can wrongly ID something that’s not explosive, but they can’t fail to identify something that is.)

EOD K-9s only work for food, only eat as a reward, and are only fed by hand. The dog we met has never eaten from a bowl. The handler must actually hide tiny amounts of explosive and have the dog find them so that the dog can eat!

Provide training and demonstrations. The EOD team provides presentations and training to civic groups and other law enforcement agencies.

EOD tidbits:

  • The EOD suit weighs 80 pounds plus equipment. It’s made to withstand one pound of force from ten feet. If the suit isn’t enough to protect the EOD officer from the threat, he’ll generally opt not to wear it at all.
  • The face shield on the protective helmet is two inches thick!
  • They have multiple sizes of robots, from little guys that weigh 40 pounds (and cost $250K) to one that weighs almost a ton (see photos).
  • Robots can use a shotgun to render safe, but not to shoot a suspect.
  • Dogs attend a 16-week EOD training school offered by the CIA. ATF has one too, but it’s farther away.

There’s another unit in the FCPD that uses dogs. The Canine (K-9) Unit has two main missions: track suspects and find drugs.

Tracking suspects. K-9 dogs are only called in for felony pursuits and serious misdemeanors (DWI, domestic violence). They’re almost never used to find lost or missing persons. Why? Because K-9s are trained to bite their target and hold on. Their instinct is to bite whatever’s moving, so while they’re trained to grab the meaty shoulder area, if your arms are flailing they’ll likely go for an arm.

They track on human odor, and can distinguish between old and recent odor (recent being within the last 15 minutes or so). The Belgian Malinois we met once tracked a man across a river and picked up the scent on the other side.

Finding Drugs. K-9 dogs can recognize a drug from the tiniest trace. They can sniff out drugs like marijuana, hash, coke, crack, PCP, heroin, LSD, and MDMA (Ecstasy, X, E).

K-9 dogs are working dogs until they retire. They are never allowed to socialize with other dogs (especially other K-9s) because they’re all alpha males and they need to maintain that belief. The only one who’s higher on the hierarchy than the dog is the handler.

They also don’t socialize with people outside of the handler’s family because they shouldn't get comfortable with human social interaction. The humans these dogs meet are targets!

The dogs used in the FCPD are either German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois. They are acquired close to two years of age when they can be tested for their natural drives. To maintain those drives, the dogs—generally males because they’re more aggressive—are not neutered.

Unlike the EOD dogs, patrol dogs do not get food while working. They need to be hungry to maintain their drive to seek, and their reward is a ball. They are fed before and after work, from a bowl.

It can take a year or more for the handler and the dog to “learn” each other. The handler has to recognize when the dog has lost the scent or he’ll be led on a goose chase as the dog tries to please the handler by finding something. The dog must recognize when the trainer is pleased or upset.

Patrol dogs wear a harness, which signals to the dog that it’s work time. The dogs get excited when the harness goes on. They love to work. When a K-9 isn't working, he spends most of his time in an indoor kennel (left open during the day) or an outdoor run.

Last Thursday's SWAT, EOD, and K-9 class was the last regular session of CPA, but tonight I’m taking a tour of the Adult Detention Center (jail!), and on Saturday I’ll be driving a cruiser on the practice track, so there are a few more posts yet to come.

Tell your friends!


  1. Ara


    This is way too cool! Maybe I also need a harness when I get to my day-job. That may get me excited to work also 🙂

    • Reply

      Ara that brings up all sorts interesting images. 😉 But there’s probably something to the idea of an item or song or scent that we associate with “going to work”, especially since I don’t leave the house like I used to.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Reply

    How do they handle adopting out or retiring EOD and drug dogs if they are purposefully unsocialized? It seems like that could make for a dangerous situation in the wrong environment.

    • Reply

      Good question, Kali. In most cases the handlers keep them. Not sure how that works when the new dog comes in though, since the working dog shouldn’t be socialized. According to the K-9 cop, there’s never a shortage of other handlers willing to take home a dog though. And basically, they are very protective of their families.

      Also, the EOD dogs are allowed to socialize more since they’re not people trackers and they don’t bite targets. The one that visited us got to roam the room sniffing people and getting petted. The patrol dog had to stay on the lead with his handler.

  3. KM Fawcett


    Too cool! I wish there was a CPA in my town or county. I so want to do this. Thanks for the recaps, Gwen. Have fun in jail! 😉

    • Reply

      It’s too bad there’s not one near you, Kathy. Have you ever considered Lee Lofland’s Writer’s Police Academy? He brings in people who cover a lot of the same things. It costs more, but it’s over in a weekend.

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