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Metra seeks more bomb-sniffing dogs

(The following article by Monifa Thomas was posted on the Chicago Sun-Times website on March 11.)

CHICAGO -- More bomb-sniffing dogs could be on the way for Metra, now that the commuter rail agency has taken the Transportation Security Administration up on its offer to provide free dogs and training.

TSA has a grant program for airports and transit systems wanting to expand their canine security teams, but until recently, Metra chose not to apply for TSA dogs because it did not have the manpower or facilities for them, officials said.

Metra now says it has applied for three bomb detection dogs from TSA.

But the dogs’ handlers will be employed by the State Police, not Metra, under a recent agreement between the two agencies, Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.

“We wanted the dogs from TSA from the beginning, but ... we didn’t have people at our disposal to take out of service ... to put them with the dogs,” Pardonnet said.

She said Metra had approached the Chicago Police Department about providing handlers before reaching out to State Police.

‘One more layer of security’

Pardonnet said the decision to apply for TSA-trained dogs had nothing to do with a WBBM-Channel 2/Sun-Times investigation that raised questions about the effectiveness of dogs and handlers trained by a private security firm to sweep Metra stations for explosives.

The TSA canines would be “just one more layer of security in our entire system plan,” said Pardonnet.

But first, the dogs and their State Police handlers must pass a 10-week training course and go through a local certification process before they could be deployed at Metra stations, TSA spokeswoman Lara Uselding said.

Monday, March 12, 2007

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