Meet city’s super cop, a pooch with an acute sense of smell
SLEUTH WITH PAWS : Tom, the two-year-old Labrador retriever of the canine squad of the Gurugram police, helps his human counterparts to solve complex crime casesgurgaon Updated: Jan 06, 2019 14:23 IST
Gurugram It is 11.30 on a December morning. In a daring heist pulled off overnight, a jewellery store in Sector 14 has been robbed, and the loot is estimated to be worth several crores. The police say the thieves had climbed on to the terrace of the store using knotted ropes and broken a door, before drilling their way into the strong room. Several policemen from the crime branch are combing the crime scene.
Tom arrives in a police control room van with two associates and inspects the hole drilled over the ceiling of the strong room. He sniffs a glove left behind by one of the thieves and paces his way to the terrace roof. With paws outstretched, he kneels on a roof ledge hinting that the thief, who dropped his glove, rappelled his way from the ledge to an adjacent roof top to escape.
In the previous week, Tom was summoned to investigate a theft case near the Sohna-Palwal border. A few inverter batteries were reported stolen from a shop. Tracking the scent from the origin point, Tom walked over 300 yards to a warehouse and started circling around. Seventy hacks of hay were reported stolen from the warehouse. Tom’s lead helped the police to connect the two cases to the same accused.
Tom, a two-year-old black Labrador retriever, is the lone tracker dog in the city police’s dog squad, helping the police to zero-in on leads in cases of murder, robbery, theft, dacoity and kidnapping. As a tracker dog, Tom is trained to follow scents of objects and humans, sniffing them for several miles to track dead bodies, evidence or the trail of a suspect from a crime scene.
Tom joined the dog squad in April 2018 immediately after completing a 36-week-long training course from the National Training Centre for Dogs at the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) centre in Bhanu, Panchkula with his handler, head constable Rishi Raj, and assistant handler, sub-inspector Ramesh Kumar.
“In a batch of six tracker dogs, he (Tom) won a gold medal and was feted by the drill instructor. The training for police dogs starts with a basic obedience course for 12 weeks, in which dogs are trained to respond to commands. It is followed by an advanced tracker course of 24 weeks, in which dogs are trained to track and differentiate among scents,” said Rishi Raj, head constable.
The handlers also complete a course in dog-handling and kennel management, appearing for written and practical examinations at the end of the course.
Tom picked up cues of his handlers and learnt to respond to commands during training. “In the basic course, he was trained to respond to commands (hukam palna) such as ‘baitho (sit)’, ‘le kar aao (fetch)’, ‘roll and ruko (stay, wait)’. Since a majority of the populace and the police in Haryana speaks Hindi, Tom has been trained to respond to Hindi dialects,” said Raj.
A month after Tom got his first posting, his training came in handy when a toddler had gone missing in a slum area in Manesar. A man had allegedly kidnapped his friend’s 18-month-old boy from his house, after his friend failed to repay a loan. The incident was reported late night, when the boy’s mother woke up for a glass of water and noticed the boy missing from his cot.
“The police told us that the boy was sleeping next to his mother. We gave Tom the scent of the bed sheets and the toddler’s clothes. Tom started pacing and took two right turns to lead us near the gate of a private company. After sniffing along a track for over 150 yards, Tom started circling near Dharuhera Chowk,” said Ramesh Kumar, sub-inspector.
Kumar said that Tom was hinting that the scent stopped till the junction, and the accused probably walked up to that point, before hoping in to a vehicle.
“The police arrested the accused after rounding up people who had boarded a vehicle from the crossing during the night, going through the CCTV footage of the past six hours,” said Kumar.
A crucial aspect of his job is to provide help (imdad) to the police in connecting the dots after surveying a crime scene. But, his job comes with certain limitations. A change in terrain, extreme weather conditions or presence of a street dog could interfere with a dog’s sense of scent and create confusion.
“Tracking becomes challenging if a water body blocks the path or if a suspect commits a crime using a car directly from the point of origin. In villages, the presence of country dogs can distract police dogs in the middle of tracing something and the whole process then has to be repeated,” said Raj.
Raj said he carries a stick with one hand to scare away a street dog and manages the leash with the other, holding it a certain distance depending on the situation.
“In urban areas, a distance of eight feet is appropriate while tracking, while in forest areas, the leash can be over 20 feet long,” said Raj.
Tom has been filing in on calls of theft, robbery and dacoity from Rewari since Rewari does not have a dog squad. With multiple duties in a day, the responsibility of managing the workload lies with the handlers, who have grown quite close to Tom.
“I have been with Tom since he was six months old and had just arrived from the police academy in Madhuban. He is young and still learning on the job. He is so agile that, sometimes, it is tough to keep pace with him when he gets a scent and runs after it,” said Raj.
Kumar recounted a case in Gwal Pahari, when he had to persuade a police official to put on hold the investigation for an hour since it was too hot for Tom to climb a cliff.
“It was peak summertime, and the terrain was mountainous. I got a call from an investigation official requesting assistance in locating a dead body. When we reached the spot, I asked the officer to wait for the sun to set, otherwise Tom would be tired quickly and hinder the probe,” said Kumar.
The handlers ensure that Tom gets a breather between ‘duties’ and that they carry his meals (milk, rice, dalia, wheat) in the PCR van on a busy day. On slow days, Tom exercises twice in his kennel at the Sadar police station.
“We recently arranged a sweater for him to combat this cold,” said Kumar
The handlers hoped that Tom follows in the footsteps of Sultan, the former tracker Labrador retriever of city police, who was transferred to the Rohtak range after a decade of service. Sultan had represented the state at the All India Police Duty Meet and won medals.
“But it is too early for that. He turned two on November 20. He is too busy investigating crimes to participate in games,” said Raj.
First Published: Jan 06, 2019 14:23 IST