The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), graduated its first class of four Search Enhanced Evidence Canine S.E.E.K. handlers February 21, 2014 in a ceremony at its National Canine Center in Front Royal, Va. The S.E.E.K. program trains explosives detection canine handlers to work their canines off-leash. This allows the canines to work independently at a greater distance, which can be invaluable in a variety of circumstances, including the recovery of firearms, explosive and post-blast evidence.
“ATF’s explosives detection canine program is recognized as one of the best in the world,” said ATF Director B. Todd Jones. “These dogs help protect people from the tragic explosives events that devastate lives, and they work side-by-side with our special agents to find crime guns and spent shell casings at crime scenes nationwide. Their efforts solve investigations and aid in keeping our communities safer.”
The S.E.E.K. program is a 13-week training course during which handlers learn to search in open areas, fields, schools, vehicles, bus lots, warehouses, retail stores and other facilities, often off the leash. Prior to the program, the canines underwent a separate 12-week training session where they learned to recognize more than 19,000 explosives compounds and to detect firearms and spent ammunition. The canine is taught to detect trace amounts of all types of low explosives such as smokeless and black powders and high explosives such as TNT. They can also detect traces of residue from firearms and spent shell casings.
“ATF canine trainers first developed this training methodology in 2005, which combined refined obedience, hand and whistle commands, and off-leash capabilities with the advanced detection proficiencies of its current explosives detection canine program,” said National Canine Division Chief John Ryan. “ATF S.E.E.K. teams are unique, because the off-leash capability gives the agent in the field a new deployment option with the canine based on the threat level. Over the years ATF’s explosives detection canines have located crucial pieces of evidence at hundreds of crime scenes. The S.E.E.K. program’s goal is to enhance this mission critical task by directing the canines to cover larger search areas in a much timelier manner.”
All ATF canine handlers are special agents with specialized training and experience in post-blast scenes and explosives recognition, handling, and disposal.
ATF’s canine program began in 1986, and since then, ATF-trained dogs have contributed to a variety of successful operations, including bomb and gun investigations, as well as in the more traditional protective search and sweep responsibilities.
ATF explosives detection canine teams have supported major investigations and incidents throughout the country. Recent investigations include an ATF explosives detection canine team (EDC) that responded to a request for assistance regarding a vehicle arriving from Alaska by ferry, suspected of containing AK-47 firearms for transport to Mexico. The ATF EDC team located a total of five firearms, including two assault rifles, three pistols, a drum magazine and multiple high-capacity rifle magazines within the vehicle. In another investigation, an EDC team assisted a local police department in searching near a school for a firearm, which was intended to be used on a rival gang member. The ATF EDC team located a semi-automatic pistol, with a fully loaded magazine and a round in the chamber, in the rear wheel well of a vehicle.