They’ve been spotted in public, sometimes at national events sniffing around or being transported from one place to another. For anyone who hasn’t seen these Police service dogs up-close, you may have some questions concerning what they do and how they do it. Are they harmful? Do they have the ability to sniff and find drugs and explosives? How do they do it? How are they trained? How much do they eat in a day? These are just some of the questions one would ask about the sniffer dogs. The story behind these dogs and what they can do seems like a myth but it’s real. Senior Superintendent (SSP), Innocent Semigabo, the commanding officer of RNP’s Canine Brigade, explains that when Rwanda National Police was established in 2000, one of the units that were much needed due to the level of crime was the Canine Brigade- which was established at the time. “Due to the services canines provide in crime detection and prevention, the institution was determined to have the brigade in place irrespective of the high demands it required to be up and running,” Semigabo says. The sniffer dog at work. He says the unit started with only two sniffer dogs which were good at detecting narcotic drugs and explosives. These were managed by three specialised police officers. Today, Police runs a fully-fledged dog regiment with ambitions to extend their services to all corners of the country. Explaining the necessity, Semigabo points out that as communities around the world develop, crimes increase while criminals come up with new skills to beat the security system. “This explains the demand for sniffer dogs; it has been proven that it’s impossible to beat a sniffer dog however much someone tries to hide drugs or explosives. Experts have equated the search and finding capacity of one dog to that of 50 trained personnel,” Semigabo says. With the help of the skilled dogs, Police has since last year intercepted about 24kg of cocaine at Kigali International Airport. Previously, Police arrested four people on different occasions at Kigali International Airport with 10.7 kilogrammes of cocaine. They included a Ugandan holding a British passport, who was arrested in August 2014 with 1kg and two Rwandans holding Belgian passports who were intercepted last November in Kenya with 7.4kg of cocaine. The latest incident involved a Kenyan woman who was arrested last month with 2.3kg. The dogs are put under intense training to identify which area of expertise they can be good at. Dog training Police has three dog breeds; the German Shepherd, the English Springer Spaniel and the Labrador Retriever. Each of these breeds has unique roles based on either size or speed. All these detect drugs and explosives. Whenever Police acquires a new dog, it’s immediately put under intense general training to identify which area of expertise the dog can be good at. If the dog passes the first training, it moves onto level two of obedience which is followed by a joint training with its handler. “Every dog has to pass with at least 90 per cent score of the training; we have discharged dogs that have failed the training and returned them to the owners for an exchange. We cannot take risks in this exercise that’s why we go with the most qualified dogs,” says Semigabo. The training with its handler, also called “The Dog Team”, is to ensure that the dog never parts from its handler. “In the event that a handler leaves the unit, we take the dog back to training and get it a new handler. Same applies to promotions, if the handler gets a promotion, the dog’s status and ratings move up as well,” says the commanding officer. He gives an example of how a handler’s promotion benefits his dog, saying, if a police constable is promoted to the rank of corporal, he will always eat before the constables, meaning his dog also eats before others. The majority of the dogs are deployed at the airport where they have played a key role in intercepting drug traffickers, including those carrying extremely harmful drugs like cocaine. According to SSP Semigabo, while establishing a well desired Canine Brigade, Rwandans are also considered and given priority if they have the dog breeds required. “We have so far acquired eleven sniffer dogs from Rosacal Company situated in Rusororo, Gasabo District owned by a Rwandan. This is in line with supporting local breeders of dogs.” The dogs have played a key role in intercepting drug traffickers, including those carrying extremely harmful drugs like cocaine. (Courtesy photos) A service dog’s lifestyle The dogs are well taken care of. Highly skilled specialists are deployed and charged with cooking, feeding, cleaning and maintaining the kennels. Each dog eats 250grammes of highly nutritious food in a day. There are also veterinary doctors that examine them every day. “We don’t wait for them to fall sick so that we treat them; we instead have doctors who are particularly charged with checking them frequently,” he says. Besides their health, officers also check the dogs’ sanity every morning by examining their behaviours and subjecting them to two hours of training on a daily basis. Expansion “The canine unit is being expanded as it is seen as a major and effective support to police work. We are in the process of spreading our services to all borders and provinces, so that we are able to serve all Rwandans. “We are in the process of acquiring more 28 dogs, also to be trained and supplied by a local supplier. We also intend to introduce skilled dogs in search and rescue (SAR), detective dogs, and crowd control dogs,” Semigabo says. Sniffer dogs have been instrumental in Police targeted operations, especially against narcotic drugs seized in different parts of the country. Recently, sniffer dogs led to the interception of sacks of cannabis in Kirehe District, after they led the handlers to the house where they were hidden. firstname.lastname@example.org ************************************* YOUR VOICE: How effective are police dogs in fighting crime? Israel Andrew Kazibwe, journalist Israel Andrew Kazibwe In my opinion, dogs are better options; a well-trained dog really sticks to principles, unlike humans who can be a disappointment or are easily compromised. The unwavering sense of smell being a dog’s greatest asset makes it go an extra-mile than any other means that can be used in fighting crime. Besides, they don’t easily give up, until they come up with something, unlike humans. Elton Kangabo, student Elton Kangabo No matter how well police dogs are trained or are good at detecting crime, I have a feeling they can be easily compromised or mislead, more than any other modern technology method that can be used for the same purpose. In my opinion, dogs should be used alongside other technical means if crime is to fully become history. Furijance Sabyenda, businessman Furijance Sabyenda Based on all the impressive stories I have heard about crime detecting dogs, I believe they offer a better option when it comes to fighting crime. If they are well trained, they will not leave a stone unturned, unlike other methods of technology used, or the human eye. James Kabera, employee ASL James Kabera I don’t doubt the dogs’ expertise in crime fighting with all the achievements we have seen. However, I can only call them better options where there is a joint way of doing work; that is to say, there should be other modern means to supplement their efforts in crime fighting, due to chances that these dogs can be misled or fail to keep up with human tricks. No matter how good they are, we can’t rely on them solely to do a better job.