During the last few weeks of the school year and throughout the summer, the dogs will patrol secondary schools after hours to try to sniff out illegal drugs.
Described as a “proactive measure” in a letter to parents, sent today (Thursday), the searches come at a time when parents are becoming increasingly alarmed about the presence of drugs in middle and high schools.
“I have two children in middle school and have heard of numerous times this year alone of students overdosing on prescription drugs on school grounds or having drugs on school grounds,” one Arlington Public Schools parent said in an email to ARLnow.com.
“Drugs in APS middle and high schools are a real problem,” said an APS employee, who wished to remain anonymous. “Administrators are quick to sweep the drug problems under the rug so it won’t make the school look bad. Do the police warn drug dealers of a raid before the raid? I’m a concerned parent, tax paying citizen and an employee of APS.”
In an email to staff yesterday afternoon, obtained by ARLnow.com, Washington-Lee High School Principal Dr. Gregg Robertson acknowledged that Arlington “has seen an increase in the use of controlled substances.”
As many of you may be aware, Arlington, like many areas of the country, has seen an increase in the use of controlled substances. Over the course of the past year, APS staff worked closely with a number of county agencies to respond to this uptick and to ensure that our schools continue to be safe spaces for students and staff. One of the new measures that will be implemented to help minimize the presence of illegal substances in the schools is the use of the Arlington Police Department K-9 unit. Beginning later this month, the police will come to each of the high schools with the K-9 units to search for drugs. The searches will take place in the evening after students and staff have left.
APS has been communicating this information to families, and all high schools will make an announcement tomorrow (Thursday) morning. I wanted you to be aware of this initiative as I am sure students may have questions.
The drug dogs will only patrol high schools, not middle schools, according to APS.
At least one middle school principal downplayed the extent of the “drug problem” at her school. In an email sent to parents on Monday, Williamsburg Middle School principal Connie Skelton said the problem was limited to “a small cohort of students.”
I’ve had some questions about the “drug problem” at Williamsburg. I want to assure you that this is not a widespread problem, however, we do share your concern. In our school, there is a small cohort of students we are carefully following for drug related issues. If you have any information you would like to share with me, please give me a call.
Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia said the school system is taking measures to keep students safe in the face of a nationwide upswing in drug use.
“Substance abuse and opioid use is a growing problem both in our region and across the U.S.,” said Bellavia. “In collaboration with our law enforcement partners, we are taking steps to make sure that our students are safe and that our schools remain drug free. We also want to make sure that parents are aware and having conversations with their children at home.”
Vihstadt Wants Ads Atop Aquatics Center — County government could raise some extra money by placing corporate logos atop the future Long Bridge Park aquatics center, which could be seen by those flying in and out of Reagan National Airport, says County Board member John Vihstadt. He is also pushing the idea of ads on ART buses, transit stops and Capital Bikeshare stations. [InsideNova]
Pupatella Named Best Pizza in Va. — The expanding Pupatella Pizza has been named the best pizza in Virginia again, this time by USA Today. The Bluemont pizzeria will celebrate its seventh anniversary on Saturday. [USA Today]
Plaudits for The Bartlett — The Bartlett, an amenity-filled, 699-unit apartment tower in Pentagon City, has been named the year’s best residential project by the Washington Business Journal. The building, the design of which was “inspired by buildings in New York City,” leased up so quickly that plans for a “pop-up hotel” utilizing vacant units had to be pulled back. [Washington Business Journal]
Pebley Recognized for Civic Leadership — Jim Pebley was honored with a resolution of thanks from the Arlington County Republican Committee this past Wednesday. Pebley, who never ran for office but has a long resume of civic service in Arlington, is retiring to North Carolina this summer. “It is safe to say Jim Pebley is one of the most active citizens in Arlington, and has been for decades,” said one well-wisher. “[He is] extremely well-respected across the political spectrum.” [InsideNova]
Condo Resident Opposes VRE Expansion — In a WaPo op-ed, a condo resident who lives next to the VRE station in Crystal City says he opposes the planned expansion of the station because it will “will mar our precious green space” and “derail the lives of Crystal City residents through more noise and possible destruction of property during station construction.” [Washington Post]
Nearby: Threats to Falls Church Abortion Clinic — A building housing an abortion clinic in Falls Church was evacuated twice yesterday due to perceived threats. In the first instance, someone set off fireworks in the building’s elevator; in the second, someone stamped the word “bomb” on pieces of paper found near the rear entrance. An Arlington County Police K-9 unit assisted with the investigation “because F.C. police’s own K-9 unit is still in training.” [Falls Church News-Press, DCist]
Arlington County police officers responded to the 1500 block of N. Quincy Street around 12:30 a.m. after two male suspects reportedly approached three victims who had been walking in the area.
One of the suspects brandished a gun and demanded the victims’ belongings, according to police.
Police say the suspects took off on foot so they brought in an ACPD K-9 unit to track them. Fairfax County Police assisted with the search by sending a helicopter.
The suspects were not apprehended and the investigation is ongoing. From an ACPD crime report:
ARMED ROBBERY, 1500 block of N. Quincy Street. At approximately 12:25 a.m. on December 28, officers responded to the report of an armed robbery. Three victims were walking in the area when they were approached from behind by two male suspects. One of the suspects brandished a firearm and demanded the victims’ belongings. The suspects then fled the scene on foot in an unknown direction. A K9 track and an aerial observation assisted by Fairfax County Police helicopter were negative. The first suspect is described as a black male approximately 6’0″ tall, wearing all black with a black bandana over his face. The second suspect is described as a black male, approximately 5’5″ tall, with a slim build. He was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt. The investigation is ongoing.
The incident happened just before 3:30 a.m. Saturday, on the 3200 block of Wilson Blvd.
Police say 24-year-old Christian Taylor, of New Carrollton, forced entry into a restaurant and struck an employee in the face as part of a burglary. Police were called and arrived while the man was still inside the business.
“The subject ignored [an] officer’s commands to exit the business,” according to an Arlington County Police Department crime report. “Following several announcements by police that were unanswered by the suspect, a K9 was deployed. The suspect kicked and punched the K9. Officers were able to take the combative subject into custody.”
Taylor has been charged with burglary, destruction of property, assault on a police dog, obstruction of justice and assault and battery.
Police did not specify the name of the restaurant, but there are only two on the 3200 block of Wilson Blvd: Silver Diner and Northside Social.
Roethlisberger’s foundation will be distributing a grant to Arlington County Police in order to purchase ballistic vests for the department’s seven K-9s. Roethlisberger and the Steelers will be playing the Washington Redskins on Monday.
“During the 2016 NFL season, The Ben Roethlisberger Foundation will be distributing grants to K-9 units of police and fire departments in the cities and surrounding communities of each regular season away game for the Steelers,” said the quarterback’s website. “The Foundation will also distribute several grants to the Pittsburgh area. Ben invited police and fire departments across the country to submit proposals detailing their needs.”
“Our K-9s are integral members of the Arlington County Police Department, both in the field and from a community outreach perspective,” ACPD Chief Jay Farr said in a statement. “We are grateful to receive this grant so we can provide our K-9s with ballistic vests as an added layer of protection to keep them safe.”
Last season the Roethlisberger Foundation made more than $170,000 in grants to K-9 units across the country. Roethlisberger has pledged $1,000 to the foundation for every touchdown he throws this season and is seeking additional donations from fans.
— ArlingtonCountyPD (@ArlingtonVaPD) September 8, 2016
K-9 Toby, a retired Arlington County Police dog, has unexpectedly passed away, the department announced on Twitter today.
Toby served Arlington from 2008-2013.
This is, unfortunately, at least the third Arlington K-9 to die early in recent years. In 2013, K-9 Dutch become suddenly ill and passed away while on the force. A year before that, K-9 Lobo passed away shortly after retiring.
EOW: ACPD regrettably reports unexpected passing of retired K9 Toby. He served from 2008-13 & will be sadly missed. pic.twitter.com/Rh1KiyVGhN
— ArlingtonCountyPD (@ArlingtonVaPD) December 24, 2015
Arlington K-9s to Retire With Handlers — The Arlington County Board on Saturday unanimously voted to officially sanction the transfer of ownership of retiring law enforcement K-9 officers to their handlers, thus allowing police dogs to live out their lives with their long-time partners. [NBC Washington, Arlington County]
Big Changes Coming to Crystal City Building — The U.S. Marshals Service is consolidating its offices into one Crystal City office building. That will leave another Crystal City office building, 1750 Crystal Drive, vacant. Owner Vornado is planning a big facelift for the building, with more glass and steel and less concrete on the outside. [Washington Business Journal]
Arlington, Falls Church Renew Service Agreement — Arlington County will continue to provide court, jail, fire department and other services to the City of Falls Church, under a new agreement approved by the Arlington County Board on Saturday. Fall Church will pay Arlington just over $1 million per year for the services. [Arlington County]
McAuliffe to Start Marine Corps Marathon — Next weekend’s Marine Corps Marathon will be officially started by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. [Twitter]
M.J. Stewart Suspended at UNC — Former Yorktown High School football standout M.J. Stewart has been suspended from the University of North Carolina football team after being charged with assault in connection to an off-campus altercation. Stewart, a sophomore, had been a starting cornerback on the team. [Associated Press]
Resident to County: Cover Sandboxes — A Shirlington resident spoke before the County Board on Saturday to raise concern about uncovered sandboxes. She urged county officials to keep sandboxes covered when not in use, to keep pets and disease out. [InsideNova]
Varius, a 13-year-old black lab, is retiring from the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office tomorrow after 11 years of service as a narcotics-sniffing K-9 officer.
The dog “will remain in the care of Deputy Patrick Grubar, who has been his partner since teaming up at the U.S. Customs Service K-9 Training Academy in 2004,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a press release. “The duo shared in the Arlington County Crime Solvers 2013 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award.”
Varius, who’s a senior citizen in dog years, “plans to spend his days watching Animal Planet with his pug ‘little sister’ and keeping up with fans on his Facebook account.”
Around 9:30 p.m., on the southbound lanes of the parkway near Route 123, U.S. Park Police began chasing two suspects driving recklessly in a stolen vehicle, according to Park Police spokeswoman Lelani Woods.
The vehicle pursuit ended on the ramp to Key Bridge when the suspects lost control of the car, wrecked and fled on foot.
Arlington County officers, a K-9 unit and the Park Police Eagle 1 helicopter assisted with the ensuing search for the suspects near Rosslyn. The police dog — K-9 “Hugo” — was able to track and apprehend one of the suspects.
The suspect was taken into custody and checked out by paramedics for a bite wound, said ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.
A 9-year-old boy wearing an Arlington County Police Department t-shirt may not seem like a symbol of authority. But for today, he is.
This morning Police Chief M. Douglas Scott swore in Patrick Omberg, the winner of the inaugural “Chief-for-the-Day” essay competition.
“Today is National Night Out, so Patrick you’re going to work until about 10:00 or 11:00 tonight,” Scott joked during his speech at the ceremony.
Outside the police department in Courthouse, 9-year-old Patrick Omberg took an honorary police oath, read an excerpt of his winning essay and received a commemorative plaque before standing for pictures with police and his parents.
On July 8, the Arlington County Police Department announced the contest, which they plan to hold every year from now on. ACPD asked for essay submissions from children, ages 8 to 12, that answered the question: “What does it mean to be a police officer?”
“Based on his essay, it was a pretty easy selection for us,” ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said. “Even at 9 years old, he seemed to have a good understanding of the police and for our role in the community.”
Omberg said that he wrote about how “the police keep people safe” in his essay, and although he doesn’t know if he wants to be a police officer, he was having fun as an honorary chief. He didn’t have to wrangle drunken pub-crawlers or chase down criminals, but Omberg did get a glimpse at the inner workings of the police department.
“We wanted to show him what life in the Arlington County Police Department could be like,” Sternbeck said. “We want to build positive relationships in the community. It’s been a great experience for us just as much as [it has been] for him.”
Before the ceremony, police picked up Omberg from his house in a patrol car and guided him on a tour of the police station, where they took his fingerprints and introduced him to their K-9 unit.
“My favorite part was seeing the dogs,” Omberg said.
“Do you remember what his name was?” Omberg’s father, Peter, asked his son.
“Drogo,” Omberg said, although the rising fourth-grader didn’t seem to get the “Game Of Thrones” reference in the name.
To cap off his day, Omberg would look at the station’s booking department with the sheriffs and have lunch with Scott, Sternbeck said.
“I can use all the help I can get,” Scott said at the ceremony. “So having someone like you help me [for today], is very much appreciated.”
“Are you available for a vehicle search, 66 and 495, to assist state?” screeches the police radio.
Cpl. Dave Torpy with the Arlington County Police Department receives a call from dispatch regarding a potential drug situation in Fairfax County. He confirms he can respond to the mutual aid call and heads out to his car to join his partner waiting inside. But his is no ordinary partner. Torpy gets to work with Ozzie, one of ACPD’s K-9 members.
The two head to the scene and find state police waiting for them. State police had pulled over the driver of a truck who was spotted wrecking one of his front wheels when he crashed into a jersey barrier. The driver allegedly kept going until he was pulled over, and police suspected he was under the influence of some sort of substance. Torpy and Ozzie were requested from Arlington because no other K-9 teams were available in Fairfax.
Torpy walks Ozzie to the vehicle and indicates places to sniff by leading his hand close to, but not touching, certain areas. He explains that officers are not allowed to search inside a vehicle without a warrant, but the law allows the investigation of the vehicle’s perimeter. Should a K-9 partner “hit” on a scent of drugs wafting from inside the vehicle to the outside, that’s considered probable cause and officers may perform a full search.
He points out areas where dogs often pick up drug scents emanating from inside, such as along door cracks or crevices in the vehicle body. But Ozzie doesn’t need any leading and pulls Torpy to a different portion of the vehicle. Ozzie stands up on the side of the truck bed, scratching and emitting low growls.
The multiple instances of scratching and barking are exactly what police look for; those actions are what the dogs are trained to do when they smell drugs. That is the permission police need to open this particular vehicle for probable cause and to continue their search.
Ozzie is allowed inside the vehicle and he repeatedly sniffs and scratches at the sun visors and along cracks around the door. Torpy explains those are two common places for suspects to stash drugs quickly when they’re getting pulled over by police.
When it’s clear that Ozzie smells something out of the ordinary, he’s led back to the ACPD cruiser to wait. It’s now time for humans to take over and to continue the search for illicit substances. Once humans enter the equation, dogs typically are not brought back in. Humans searching for items might spread the scent from a “hot” area to places where nothing was hidden. Bringing in a dog at that point could yield, for example, a dozen hits in a vehicle that previously only had one.
“He really likes this vehicle,” Torpy said. “He paid attention to the open window a lot and actually barked and scratched along the seams. If you weren’t initially looking for dope, you wouldn’t necessarily look at the seams. But his nose took us there so we can search further.”
Ozzie, a Belgian Malinois, is one of the nine dogs in ACPD’s K-9 unit. Seven are “dual purpose” or patrol dogs that assist with building searches, evidence recovery, criminal apprehension and narcotics detection. Two are trained solely to detect explosives; one bomb detection dog belongs to a crime scene agent and the other belongs to a school resource officer.
Most of the dogs are purchased from reputable breeders in Europe, but the two bomb dogs were rescues. One was adopted from a shelter in Loudoun County and the other was donated by a family that could no longer care for the dog.
Sgt. John McCarthy is also a dog handler and supervises the K-9 unit. McCarthy goes out on calls with his partner, Charly, just like all the other K-9 unit members, but he also oversees the unit’s operations. He handles scheduling, helps with handler and dog hiring, and purchases supplies like food and toys.
Prior to his appointment in 2007, the department did not have a supervisor for the unit. Arlington County Police Chief M. Douglas Scott was instrumental in adding the position and with expanding the K-9 unit to allow for nearly 24-7 police dog coverage.
“When I was doing a review of the units, I saw at the time we only had four dogs. They were not really a full unit they were just on squads,” said Scott. “I didn’t think it was an effective way to run the program.”
Scott joined the department in 2003 and approved the addition of two dual purpose dogs in 2004, two bomb detecting dogs in 2006, and McCarthy’s supervisory position including a dog in 2007.
“We’ve done it all gradually by converting existing positions,” said Scott. “I didn’t want to be going to the County Manager or County Board asking to add new positions. I made the case internally and started the expansion that way.”
The current price of a police dog runs around $7,000 plus the cost of continuous training. Those working in the unit, along with Chief Scott, believe it’s a wise investment.
“K-9 to me has always been something I would describe as a force multiplier. Their ability to get in and search a building, do a track, is so much better than using multiple officers or for officers to be doing a blind search. They’ve proven themselves time and time again,” Scott said. “It’s well worth the investment.”
In 2013, the ACPD K-9 unit responded to 495 calls in Arlington County and 27 mutual aid calls in neighboring jurisdictions. The dogs helped apprehend 22 criminals, found narcotics in 26 vehicles or residences and found narcotics 23 times during sweeps of packages at United States Postal Service facilities.
Back at the station, Torpy demonstrates how the dogs are motivated by “toy time.” He holds out one of Ozzie’s pull toys and the dog stares at the item, wide-eyed and unflinching. Time and again he wrestles with the toy, fetches it and begs for it to be thrown down the hall. It’s quite obvious why the department uses toy rewards instead of food incentives, with the exception of one K-9 that has no interest in the toys.
“What’s in it for them is really why they work. Why else would they work to find hidden drugs? Because at the end of finding hidden drugs they get a toy. If they didn’t get anything they may not work for us,” Torpy said. “Here’s the great thing about dogs, they don’t know what’s illegal. They don’t know what’s bad. They don’t know that heroin can kill you, they don’t know any of that stuff. All they know is ‘I’ve been taught to find the heroin smell and if I find the heroin smell, Dave gets really happy and sometimes he gives me treats.'”
But just as quickly as Ozzie switched into play mode, he snaps right back into work mode. With one word from Torpy, Ozzie immediately drops his toy. With another, the dog begins tracking down the halls of the department wherever Torpy points.
Dogs begin training typically around the age of 12 to 18 months and are allowed a couple of weeks to bond with their handler before the team undergoes 14 weeks of extensive training. The training regimen continues throughout the team’s career.
Torpy designs the training sessions that are held every Wednesday. Sometimes the whole team trains together and other times they break into their bomb or narcotics groups for more specialized training.
The K-9 unit holds much of its training during overnight hours because it allows the dogs to practice their skills in the field without the distraction of people on the streets. Compare, for example, a dog trying to track its target when the streets are relatively empty at midnight, versus a target rich environment during rush hour.
“The dog is trained to follow the freshest human scent, he can’t compartmentalize and say that’s bad guy smell versus good guy smell,” said McCarthy. “So at midnight there’s a better chance of him tracking his target.”
Dogs also receive training during the day to keep their skills in crowds sharp and to keep them up to speed in a variety of situations.
Although the dogs receive most of the public attention, they’re not the only ones being put through the wringer. The human handlers have just as much training and are held to high standards by the department. McCarthy said he uses a discerning eye when interviewing officers for a handler spot, and requires a fairly seasoned officer who has worked at least a couple of different jobs within the department. He particularly gravitates toward candidates who exhibit “maturity and stability.”
“I want someone who knows their way around the county and the department, because at some point in this job there will be tough times,” McCarthy said. “Whether it’s the dog’s health, or the dog not responding to the handler, or some other problem, it’s very physically and mentally demanding. We look for people who are stable and mature. It’s a great group of people we have.”
Just as with any physically demanding job, the dogs do sometimes become injured while on duty or during training. No dogs with ACPD have had any major, life-threatening injuries in the line of duty. They do, however, sometimes sustain cuts, broken toes or damaged teeth. That’s when it’s time for a trip to one of the vets the department has a contract with.
“They’re kind of like athletes, they get hurt. We treat them with medicine or rest,” said McCarthy. “There’s a lot of time invested in the training of the dogs. Their health and well-being is a huge part of our lives.”
At times, injuries may force the dogs to take off for a few weeks. They still maintain all their training knowledge despite extended days away from work.
“It’s amazing when you’re new you’re very fearful your dog will unlearn everything he’s learned. After the countless repetitions you do in that 14 weeks and throughout your career, the dog is a finished product and they know the cues as well as you do,” said McCarthy. “If I’m in my car and I go to put his harness on, he knows pretty much what we’re going to do. I almost don’t have to give him a command.”
The breeds that work as police dogs — at ACPD that’s mostly the Belgian Malinois or German Shepherds — are chosen because they have a very high drive and are highly obedient.
“We’re really cueing off their innate dispositions to hunt. That’s in them genetically,” McCarthy said. “We just modified it, motivated them and tweaked it to what we want them to do. It’s just taking that natural drive they have and we’re tuning it.”
Despite the instinct to hunt, the dogs are not vicious. They’re gentle and loyal and only attack if commanded to by a handler.
“I think they make us a much more effective agency. I think the vision some people have of the snarling German Shepherd, the very intimidating, I have not seen our dogs used in that way for my entire time here, for that intimidation factor,” said Scott. “I think that goes to the training we provide to our officers and the documentation that goes along with that level of force, to make sure it is done in a proper and procedural way.”
The dogs are also known for being incredibly protective of their handlers and becoming quickly attached.
“One of the biggest challenges in K-9 is that it’s 24-7 for the handlers and their family,” Scott said. “This tool goes home with them and needs proper care and attention. That’s quite a commitment on the officer’s part to accept that responsibility.”
McCarthy agreed with Scott’s assessment of the challenge, adding that the dogs living with their handlers is probably the most surprising aspect to the public.
“People are very surprised they [the dogs] live with us as a pet when they’re off duty. But I think that’s how most jurisdictions do that. I think in the public’s mind there’s some sort of special kennel system where we leave them, but they live with us,” said McCarthy. “That’s a hard part of it, your work is always with you. It’s even looking at you in the middle of the night when it has to go to the bathroom.”
Because of the intense bond shared between the members of the K-9 teams, handlers take it rather hard on the rare occasions when one of the dogs dies during its time on the force. Such was the case last year when Dutch came down with a rare, fatal illness. Fortunately, most of the dogs meet a more pleasant retirement once they’re deemed unfit for work. Failing senses — such as eyesight or hearing — typically proves to be the harbinger of retirement. ACPD allows the handlers to adopt their retired dogs for free if they so choose.
“It’s a very rewarding job. It’s been a great time for me,” said McCarthy. “It’s my last job in this department. My dog is eight years old, he and I are both getting older. We’ll retire together.”
Dutch suddenly became ill on Sunday (March 31) and passed away later that day after undergoing emergency surgery.
Dutch joined the K-9 Unit in September of 2007 and was certified in multiple disciplines including tracking, police dog I certification (apprehension, obedience, agility and search) and narcotics detection. He had located narcotics on a number of occasions and assisted with apprehending multiple suspects.
In a press release, ACPD said, “Dutch will be greatly missed by his handler and all the members of the K-9 Unit.”
Last year, ACPD lost Lobo, one of its retired K-9 members.
Around 9:45 p.m., a suspect threw hot coffee on the front desk attendant at the Best Western hotel on the 2400 block of S. Glebe Road. The suspect then hopped the counter, stole $450 in cash and a cell phone, and fled the scene in a white sedan, according to police.
A K9 unit and the helicopter were called in, but police were ultimately unable to locate the suspect.
“The suspect is described as a black male, 6’0” tall and 170 lbs,” according to the police report. “He was wearing a black hat, reading glasses, black athletic jacket, white athletic shorts and white shoes at the time of the robbery.”
Lobo worked for the ACPD beginning in 2004, and retired this past spring. Lobo had worked as a patrol dog and as an Explosive Ordinance Detection K-9, with his partner Corporal Tom Binckley. He successfully certified with the United States Police Canine Association in those two disciplines, and had been used as a tracker on numerous occasions.
During his seven years of service, Lobo also worked to keep Arlington residents safe at special events, such as the Arlington County Fair (pictured above). He was described as a social dog who enjoyed putting on demonstrations for civic and youth groups.
We’re told all of the ACPD members who had worked with Lobo were saddened to hear of his passing on Friday night.