A bomb-sniffing police K-9 figures to be stationed at the Duluth Transportation Center beginning next year.
The partnership between the Duluth Police Department and Duluth Transportation Authority was approved by the City Council earlier this week. The DTA board of directors is expected to approve funding for the program at its meeting Wednesday.
The K-9 will be handled by a Duluth police officer, Jeremy O’Connor, already located at the transportation center in downtown Duluth on Michigan Street. Training of the K-9 will begin this fall and the dog will be brought online early next year, Duluth police spokesperson Ingrid Hornibrook said on Tuesday.
Hornibrook called the addition “planning for the worst.”
“With any transit area there’s always concern about bags being left behind and you want to take each of them seriously,” she said. “This should enable us to quickly determine if a bag is safe and just forgotten, or to see if it’s something that requires more concern.”
DTA General Manager Phil Pumphrey told the News Tribune the DTA already funds the resource officer at the site. With the addition of a K-9, the DTA will fund the program at a cost of roughly $113,000 annually for five years, with costs escalating 3 percent each year, according to the City Council resolution.
“They approached us and it made a lot of sense with an officer stationed there,” Pumphrey said. “It’ll be a resource the DTA and Duluth Police Department will share with the community.”
Pumphrey noted that with high-profile political visits and other events which draw large crowds, it made sense to have an K-9 specializing in explosives in the community. The handling officer and Duluth police will determine how the dog is used, and Pumphrey said it was unlikely the dog would do things such as “sniff every bus.”
The transportation center opened earlier this decade. In addition to an on-site satellite police station, the DTA hires security to cover most hours at the facility which connects to the skywalk system via the Northwest Passage.
Pumphrey said the police presence at the site has been valuable for keeping order and enforcing trespassing issues. Typical scenarios include smoking in the building, people with substance abuse issues acting out, people camping in stairways after hours and even drug use and overdoses.
Pumphrey explained that the DTC has an escalating trespassing protocol with one-year suspensions being the final straw. A man who wouldn’t stop feeding pigeons despite police and DTA interventions incurred such a penalty.
“We take safety very seriously,” he said. “We try to keep it a safe, secure and pleasant place to be.”
Given that the addition of a K-9 will take O’Connor off site, Pumphrey said there were some reservations at first. But he came to trust a police agreement for providing coverage.
The new K-9 will join two other dogs on the force which are trained to sniff out explosives. Those K-9s also do patrol and are a part of the Tactical Response Team. Duluth police previously had a single-purpose explosives K-9 named Rocky, who is no longer with the department.
The new K-9 will be singularly purposed to deal with explosives.
“We hope it never happens,” Hornibrook said of a worst-case scenario. “But if it does we’re prepared.”