The County’s Furriest Team Members

by Ayasha Sledge, Marketing and Technology Specialist - Department of Human Resources
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Did you know that the Henrico County employee population is not made up of only people?  It also includes some furry high performers who are essential to some very special operations performed by the Police Division.

First, meet Sergeant Michelle Burroughs, Special Operations Group- EOD and Canine Division.

""Sergeant Burroughs began her career with the Henrico County Police Division on October 22, 2003 and had a goal to pursue her passion for justice while working with some of the County’s furriest team members. Sergeant Burroughs’ love for animals would eventually lead her to the County’s Canine Unit as their Sergeant in January 2017.  Of her assignment, Sgt. Burroughs said, “I thought I would play with dogs all day and blow some stuff up… Not at all! It is so much more than that.”  Not long after accepting her new canine unit assignment, Sergeant Burroughs quickly realized that working in the division of her dreams requires much more. The most challenging part is managing the unit’s $18,000 per year budget which must cover all the care and support needed for the dogs every year, including vet bills, food, repairs, leashes and kennel supplies for all 11 dogs.

""Like many canine units across the country, donations from the community are a tremendous help to the program.  As an example, Hanover High School student Cameron Boxley built and donated an obstacle course to the Canine Unit for his Eagle Scout project. Because of generous donations and support from community members like Cameron, the unit can continue to focus its attention to crime-solving in the County. 

Canine unit officers work diligently to solve crimes, connect with the community, and serve as a viable resource for other divisions in their crime-fighting efforts. Under Sergeant Burroughs’ leadership, the unit was awarded the Police Division Meritorious Unit award on April 16, 2019. This prestigious award is given by the Chief of Police to a Division component that goes above and beyond for the Division and for the community.

Now, meet the furriest members of the team:

The Canine Unit is comprised of 11 Canines, each assigned an officer/handler. Five of the dogs are ‘drug dogs’. Being a good fit for the position is just as important for drug canines as it is for humans.  Drug dogs cannot be food motivated; they must be play motivated, driven by attention with a high drive for play.

The Canine Unit also has three patrol dogs – Mako, Macho and Dutch.  Their duties include tracking and article searches. These tracking dogs use ground disturbance – skin cells, hair, body materials – not a specific scent. Tracking canines are highly effective at locating suspects and finding victims.  An interesting fact about patrol dogs is social graces aren’t really their strong suit. Patrol dogs are not very friendly. They are trained to work and take the job very seriously. They are extremely loyal to one person (their assigned handler) and are ready to protect them at all costs.

The Canine Unit also has 2 EOD (bomb) dogs.  EOD Handlers are unique because they are not only specialized EOD dog handlers, they are also certified bomb technicians. Bomb dogs are used for sweeps ahead of significant events or threats. Bomb dogs are critical to the police force and have been found to be much more reliable in finding devices than humans. However, these dogs are not used in the event of a suspicious package situation. “I would never put an officer and a dog in jeopardy next to something that could potentially explode. That’s just unnecessary, that’s a job for ‘Wall-e,’” Sgt. Burroughs shared.

“Wall-e” is a robot used in place of dogs and officers when there is a credible threat. The robot serves a variety of uses that will protect the officers from being able to get into range of a potentially dangerous situation. The EOD robot, affectionately dubbed “Wall-e” by Sgt. Burroughs, uses X-ray technology in identifying explosives and other hazardous threats. “Wall-e’ has delivered pizza and a throw phone to suspects in standoff situations!  If there is something that needs to be eradicated or destroyed, “Wall-e” is the perfect fit for the job!

""Last but certainly not least, the Canine Unit has Grace, the unit’s bloodhound who has served the County for several years. Grace is nearing retirement very soon and she will be sorely missed. The bloodhounds and their handlers are the workhorses of the unit. While bloodhounds are not as aggressive as some of the other canines in the unit, they are, in fact, extremely effective. They are often used for community programs and engagement and their uncanny ability to differentiate scent with the smallest scent article, for 30 days, in rain or snow, makes them essential to the department.  The bloodhound’s sense of smell is strong enough to use the scent from a single shell casing to successfully track a suspect.  The Canine Unit’s newest bloodhound is Daisy.  She is “all ears and feet” right now.  Daisy was a gift to the Police Division from a breeder and she is currently training and should be fully certified by December.

For more information about the Police Division’s Canine Unit and other units and services, you can check out their Web page at https://henrico.gov/police or follow them on social media.