The RCMP Police Dog Service in Manitoba is acquiring six high-tech ballistic vests complete with a camera and communication system to better protect police dogs and increase officer safety in high-risk situations.
"Before we had to send [dog handlers] into harm's way," says Sgt. Kent MacInnis, Police Dog Services. "With these new vests, we won't have to. We can send the police dog in alone and still give them commands as an additional level of safety."
The idea was born from a mock emergency response to a terrorist threat scenario that the RCMP canine unit participated in last summer. The dogs were used to clear rooms and track a terrorist suspect.
During the scenario, Emergency Response Team members were wearing body mounted cameras, and it was brought to MacInnis' attention that it would be ideal for the incident commander to see what the dog was seeing as well.
Since then, funding was secured to purchase the vests through the province's criminal forfeiture grant program.
The Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) Canine Unit has had the equipment for a few years and uses it frequently, most often during high-risk entries.
"When we use a robot, we're limited to what the robot can see and do," says Sgt. David Bessason of the WPS Canine Unit. "With a police dog, his sense of smell and the camera system, we can see what the dog is seeing, any indications the dog is making and any obstacles in the room."
The ballistic vests are custom fit to each dog, and each vest is mounted with a bracket onto which a camera can be attached.
There's also a second camera on the dog's chest so if the dog sits, the chest camera points at what the dog is seeing. And the communications system allows handlers to give their dogs commands, including the ability to call the dog back.
"When you have to send your dog into potential harm's way, it isn't an easy decision to make, but at the same time it's what we train for," says MacInnis. "This equipment gives me peace of mind."