Officer Troy Chew and Nala, the Division of Public Safety's new explosive-detecting dog, were working at the U. of I. football game Sept. 11. Among Nala's duties will be to enhance safety at campus events, particularly those that draw large crowds.
Photo by Kwame Ross
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The campus police department's newest "officer" has a nose for trouble.
Nala, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois (pronounced MAL-in-wah) is an explosives-detecting dog that joined the University of Illinois Police Department this summer. Nala and her handler, Officer Troy Chew, are the cornerstones of the public safety division's newly formed canine explosives-detection unit.
"This is part of the Public Safety Division's effort to provide a more secure campus in light of homeland security issues," said Kris Fitzpatrick, assistant chief.
Nala (rhymes with PAL-uh) has been trained to recognize and differentiate thousands of chemicals commonly used to formulate explosives. She will be working with the police to enhance safety at venues and events around campus, particularly those that draw large crowds, such as Memorial Stadium, Assembly Hall, Willard Airport and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Nala was purchased from a firm in Michigan that trains and supplies working dogs for law-enforcement agencies, including the campus police at Michigan State University. Nala, who was imported from Holland, went through several months of rigorous training after arriving in Michigan, then underwent four weeks of intensive training this summer with Chew and Officer Tim Hetrick, the division's canine coordinator. For the officers, this meant becoming familiar with Nala's personality and behavior and recognizing the signals that indicate she has detected something suspicious.
"But the training is an ongoing process," Chew said, "and for as long as the dog is working, it's constantly being trained."
Hetrick led the effort to acquire a bomb-sniffing dog and garnered the support of several units on campus, including the Division of Campus Recreation, the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Willard Airport and the chancellor's office. All of these units and the mothers and dads associations contributed or have pledged funds for the canine explosives-detection unit, which cost about $40,000 to initiate and includes a patrol car equipped with a kennel and temperature-regulation system designed for transporting a working dog.
Chew and Hetrick have experience in canine handling or working with canine units in previous positions with other law-enforcement agencies.
The U. of I. police also have a narcotics-detecting dog, Roxy, who is handled by Officer Doug Beckman.
The Belgian Malinois, the short-coated variety of the Belgian Shepherd dog, is commonly used as a working dog because it is energetic, learns quickly and tends to excel at tracking and agility. Although their tan-and-black coats and body size resemble some German shepherds, Malinois generally are considered to be more alert, more agile and more responsive than German shepherds.
"We've got some stringent guidelines in the kind of dog we need here at the university," Hetrick said. "First and foremost, the dog had to be social. We had to have a dog that members of our community would not be afraid to get close to. And we had to have a dog that is highly driven and is willing to work."
Nala was formally introduced to the public at a demonstration at Memorial Stadium Sept. 13, and the police are inviting other units and organizations around campus to contact the department if they would like to arrange presentations and demonstrations of Nala's skills, Fitzpatrick said.
For more information about the canine bomb-detection unit, its services or to request a demonstration, contact Lt. Skip Frost, patrol division commander, at 333-1216.