They came and went under the radar, but the Utah Police Academy was teaching seven high-ranking Iraqi police last month how to better train their dogs to sniff out bombs, find people lost in rubble and patrol streets on the other side of the world to keep them safe.
On Oct. 29, 2010, a bomb-sniffing dog at a Dubai airport detected an explosive in a cargo plane, one of two that had been en route to Chicago as part of an alleged and now foiled al-Qaeda plot. The Utah Police Academy had helped train the Dubai police dog squad shortly before.
So by early 2012, the U.S. Department of State was in talks with the academy about sharing their police dog training with Iraqis, too.
Handling bomb-sniffing dogs would seem critically important for Iraqi police, but it's been one they are slow to pick up, according to a December 2011 article in The New York Times.
A lot of organizations, including in the U.S., still approach dog training through the lens of human psychology, said Sgt. Wendell Nope, K9 training supervisor for the Utah Department of Public Safety. But the Utah Police Academy takes a different tact: get inside the dog's head. It's a strategy known as "cynology," first developed in Europe, that applies concepts centered on dog psychology to train the animals, one the academy's applied for the past 23 years.
That specialty, and their success story from Dubai, brought seven high-ranking Iraqis to the front door the academy, at 410 W. 9800 South in Sandy. The head K9 unit commander from each of the country's six provinces and the federal police arrived in late November, accompanied by two translators and two U.S. Department of State liaisons.
The training began Nov. 23, and the Americans did not know what to expect.
"We were unsure of what the personalities might be, or what the atmosphere might be," Nope said. "But [we found] these were police officers just like ourselves who just happen to be from another country that is absolutely struggling for its existence... At that point, we wanted to do everything we can to help these families and children be as safe as possible."
The academy brought in the six best trainers they knew four Utah officers from West Jordan police, Cottonwood Heights police, the Utah County Sheriff's Office and the Utah Highway Patrol, and two out-of-staters: a Denver police officer and a Kansas Highway Patrol lieutenant, both of whom the academy brings in now and then as adjuncts. All of them are "a cut above" in some aspect of dog training, including patrol, narcotics or bomb detection, search and rescue and SWAT response, Nope said.
The training lasted two weeks, and every day, the Iraqis said there was no way the next day could top the last and every day they were surprised that, as far as they were concerned, it did, Nope said.
At the end of each day, the Americans debriefed their federal liaisons and asked if the training met their expectations. They were consistently met with approval.
"It was wonderfully successful," Nope said.
At a going away ceremony, the Iraqi officers were almost in tears as they expressed how many innumerable lives will be saved in their homeland because of the Americans' help. Nope related how the Iraqis were so impressed with the training that they plan to adopt the methods in their respective departments without much to any alterations.
"We just felt chills inside because from the honor of these men expressing this to us, it was just almost overwhelming," Nope said. "Whenever two countries can unite in an effort to help the common man, the average citizen, it's wonderful whenever that can take place."