In a touching move, New Jersey State Police named one of its search dogs “Casto” in memory of Trooper Marc Castellano, killed earlier this summer by a car that struck him while he was on the shoulder of Route 195.
The announcement came during graduation ceremonies from the N.J. State Police Canine Training Academy in Seat Girt. All 19 officers graduated with honors Tuesday morning.
Also named for a hero trooper is “Marshal,” named after the first state trooper ever killed in the line of duty — William Marshal, who died in a motorcycle accident on Dec. 12, 1923.
State Police Supt. Col. Rick Fuentes praised his agency’s “team training” for canines and their handlers the most comprehensive in the state.
“Technology is advancing in so many areas of law enforcement,” Fuentes told the graduates, “but when it comes to detecting life-threatening explosives, uncovering hidden narcotics or tracking missing persons, police detection canines are the most reliable and effective tools available to law enforcement.
The 18-week patrol training class focuses on teaching the canines to assist their handlers in catching bad guys, detecting explosives, tracking scents, searches people and their belongings, and participating in search and rescue operations.
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The pooches are also schooled in detecting every drug from cocaine and crack to meth, pot, hash and heroin.
The key is establishing a strong bond between the handler and the four-legged detective. State Police are particular in selecting dogs with “a great play drive and a good temperment,” said Lt. Jeffrey Algor, the NJSP Canine Unit Supervisor.
As for the handlers: “Patience and understanding are prime requisites,” he said.
During the first week of training, the handlers receive an overview of the course and details of their responsibilities. Meanwhile, each dog is evaluated on search and retrieval ability, as well as the ability to bond with his or her handler.
Various exercises follow, with evaluators hiding drugs and other contraband in cars, boats, planes and buildings to see which dogs have the gift.
The program began in 1987 as part of the Statewide Narcotics Task Force. During the past year, the NJSP’s K-9 teams helped with more than 550 criminal investigations — and in several instances found and helped catch fleeing suspects, recovered evidence or assisted with crowd control.
According to Trooper Brian Polite, the narcotic dogs helped seize more than $6 million worth of illegal drugs and more than $3 million in drug money. The State Police explosive detector canines conducted over 3,000 searches for hidden explosives and assisted State Police Arson and Bomb Squad detectives at suspected arson scenes, he said.
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