Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas County schools to be sniffed for guns by police dogs

St. Petersburg Police dog trainer Chris Ladd does an exercise with Roo at the department’s canine compound on Wednesday. Dogs can detect the scent of gun chemicals.


St. Petersburg Police dog trainer Chris Ladd does an exercise with Roo at the department’s canine compound on Wednesday. Dogs can detect the scent of gun chemicals.

ST. PETERSBURG — Somewhere on the grass lay a discharged 9mm handgun.

In the future, a gun just like it could be used in a school shooting and tossed into a bush or stored in a locker or tucked in a backpack on the floor of a classroom.

Nose to the ground, a yellow lab named Roo loped across the grass at the St. Petersburg Police Department's K-9 Compound. The mayor of St. Petersburg and top brass in the police department watched discerningly.

More than 10 weeks of training had come down to a few exercises to demonstrate what could be the first program in the nation to sniff out guns in schools.

St. Petersburg Police Department canine unit trainer Chris Ladd had hidden several BB guns, as well as the 9 mm. The test was meant demonstrate if Roo could sniff out the one with blast residue, as BB guns use air to propel their projectiles. Ladd folded his arms. Roo ran past the gun, then back. The crowd offered words of encouragement, and the dog ran another lap.

Last year, the police department won a justice assistance grant of $24,000 to train two canine teams. Since December, Pinellas County Schools police officer Dave Harrison and Ladd have worked with Roo and a chocolate lab named Macy, teaching them how to smell for firearms.

Much like a dog can sense drugs, Ladd said they trained the dogs, both 2, to recognize the scent of chemicals left behind after a gun fires, a combination of primer fuel and gunpowder propellant. They began by making the dog aware of the smell on guns and bullet casings. Ladd said they then associated a reward with the smell. For Roo and Macy: taped-up white rags.

What's so great about a rag?

"Well," Ladd said, "it's really just because they're cheap and reusable."

The dogs can sniff out guns and bullet casings ranging from 22 caliber up to rounds large enough to kill elephants, Ladd said. The oldest gun they've detected was fired three years ago. Soon, they'll smell lockers and classrooms of each county school twice a year.

On Wednesday, they got the chance to prove their mettle.

Roo seemed to linger in one spot on the grass. Its face tightened before the lab frantically motioned its head toward its owner. Then he sat down. Roo found the right gun.

Harrison tossed the towel. The dog chewed it and rolled on the grass.

Weston Phippen can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8321

Pinellas County schools to be sniffed for guns by police dogs 02/26/14 [Last modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014 8:51am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Fatal crash closes Morris Bridge Road at Pasco-Hillsborough county line


    TAMPA — Deputies have closed down Morris Bridge Road in both directions at the Pasco County Line as they investigate a fatal crash.

  2. Mandarin Hide celebrates 7 years serving craft cocktails in St. Petersburg

    Bars & Spirits


    With its mascot, a mounted buffalo head named Manny, decked out in streamers and a shiny party hat, the Mandarin Hide celebrated seven years of serving cocktails on Central Avenue last Thursday night.

    Mandarin Hide’s mascot, a buffalo head named Manny, donned streamers and a shiny party hat as the bar celebrated seven years of serving cocktails last week.
  3. Florida education news: Working conditions, school choice, teacher housing and more


    WORK CONDITIONS: Two teachers at a Pinellas County middle school request transfers out, saying the campus has become "hostile and racially charged." The …

    Pinellas Park Middle School
  4. Forecast: Break out those sweaters, Tampa Bay, as cooler weather just a day away


    Tampa Bay residents will finally be able to break out their sweaters and boots this week, but not until enduring yet another humid, rainy day to start the workweek.

    Tampa Bay's 7-day forecast. [WTSP]
  5. Justin Timberlake in Super Bowl halftime show for first time since 'wardrobe malfunction'


    Justin Timberlake has finally been invited back to the Super Bowl halftime show, 14 years after the "wardrobe malfunction" with Janet Jackson caused a national controversy.

    Singer Janet Jackson covers her breast as Justin Timberlake holds part of her costume after her outfit came undone during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston in 2004. The NFL announced Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, that Timberlake will headline the Super Bowl halftime show Feb. 4 in Minnesota, 14 years after the "wardrobe malfunction" with Janet Jackson cause a national controversy. [Associated Press]