Some Sacramento County Sheriff's Department K-9 units will soon begin sniffing people and luggage for explosives for the first time at Sacramento International Airport security checkpoints.
The dogs and handlers have completed five weeks of training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Once they pass a final set of tests, they will begin working the Transportation Security Administration checkpoints.
TSA spokesperson Lorie Dankers says the dogs have a gift.
"The dog walks into a pizza shop with you. You smell pizza. You're like, ‘Mmm.’ The dog says flour, yeast, salt, tomato sauce, basil, pepperoni, whatever it is: each individual component. The dog has the ability to break things down like that that humans do not," Dankers explained during an event at the airport on Tuesday.
This is the first time non-TSA employees and dogs will help with this type of security.
"They'll just be working during certain times of day to supplement our regular screening operations, and when they're not working they'll return to their regular law-enforcement duties," Dankers said.
Mike Cravens says the units have been working at airports since the 9/11attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
"We may search aircraft, we may search vehicles, we may do the terminal, we may walk around the curbs out here. They're always working. So, when we bring them out of the car, if we're just walking them on the sidewalk or walking them through the terminal, they're already on task," Cravens said.
Cravens says he was forced to retire his previous K-9 partner when it became clear the dog did not have the ability to detect the hundreds of ingredients that can be used to make explosives.
He and his new dog, Quattro-Quappe, went through five weeks of training at Lackland.
“It’s the best training in the world. Those are world-class trainers back at Lackland,” Cravens said.
He learned how Quattro-Quappe would alert him when a potentially explosive material is present.
"Each handler can recognize that change of behavior in their dog. That alert can be something where it could be very serious or something not serious. Whatever it is, we notify TSA, our partners here, and they take care of that," Cravens said.
Quattro-Quappe is a German shepherd. He and a German short-haired pointer named Bella Bell are expected to pass their final skills test this week, then begin working.
The dogs were named in honor of two victims of the 9/11 attacks.
Louisville, Sea-Tac, Ontario, and Bradley airports will also use non-TSA dogs to screen passengers and luggage.