Bomb-sniffing dogs part of security push
Metro system will get more canine teams to inspect trains and buses as part of a TSA training program.

By Toby Eckert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Several teams of bomb-sniffing dogs will be trained and deployed on the Los Angeles County Metro system under a push by federal officials to increase security in the nation's mass transit systems after train and bus bombings in Europe.

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority will be among 10 major transit systems to get the teams, the Transportation Security Administration announced Wednesday. Each system will get three dogs to inspect trains and buses.

Law enforcement officers from Metro and the other systems will begin a 10-week TSA training course in October. They will be matched with canine partners and learn handling and search techniques. They will then get more localized training.

Metro already has several canine teams and plans to acquire three more dogs outside the TSA program.

"They're a huge help in terms of clearing abandoned packages and just making people feel safe," said Metro Chief of Transit Police Dan Finkelstein, a captain in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which handles security for the agency.

The deployment of the TSA canine teams was not a response to any specific threat, said Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the federal agency. Congress ordered the program after the 2004 bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, that killed 191 people and injured nearly 2,000.

The July subway and bus bombings in London put an even more intense focus on transit safety in the United States, with many in Congress complaining that the TSA hadn't done enough to secure rail and bus systems.

Until now, the TSA's canine program has been focused on aviation security. More than 350 teams have been deployed at airports nationwide.

"These teams are a mobile and efficient method for identifying explosive materials and they can be quickly deployed to address a variety of situations," said Kip Hawley, assistant secretary of homeland security for the TSA.

The agency mostly uses German shepherds, Belgian malinois and Labrador retrievers because of their even temperament and sharp senses. The dogs are bought from American and European breeders, and the agency has its own breeding program for Labrador retrievers at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Over time, more dogs might be sent to the 10 transit systems and other cities are expected to be added to the program.