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Super Sleuth sniffs out academy

KENMORE He can probably smell a crime that's happening a

mile away. And his colleagues boast that he really has a nose for police work.

Is he the King County Sheriff's Office Deputy of the Year? No, it's Riggs,

a German shepherd in the K-9 unit.

Riggs has been sniffing out crime for the department for the past

three years - or, 21 in dog years.

The 92-pound canine is known as a "generalist" one that tracks

and detains suspects and evidence which is different from a narcotics

dog who only searches for drugs. When Riggs isn't jumping fences,

following a lead or riding in the patrol car, he enjoys playing at home with his

partner, friend and caretaker, Deputy Randy Houser.

"I've had him since he was seven weeks old," Houser said of the

3-year-old dog. "We've caught a lot of people and we're a really good team."

Deputy Houser talked about Riggs and K-9 work at last week's

citizen's academy. He pointed out not just any canine is picked to become a

King County Sheriff's Office work dog. First, the department looks for a

pup that is the "alpha male" the

leader of the pack because it is usually the most assertive, self-confident

and courageous dog.

"These dogs are probably the best county employees because they

can't wait to go to work," Houser said. "They pout when you don't take

them with you."

Most of the K-9 work is done at night, when crimes requiring their

special assistance usually occur. But that's not the only reason the dogs prefer

to work in the still of the night. With less traffic, congestion and people

around, it makes the suspects' scent much easier to trace.

And though movies might show a police officer dangling an article

of clothing in front of the dog and giving the command, "Go find `em,

boy," most of the time the dog only has the most minuscule evidence that

people leave behind.

"People have two billion skin cells and each person's skin cell that

falls off smells different to the dogs," Houser explained. Therefore,

the freshest and most undisturbed track will likely produce the best

results. Once Riggs finds the suspect, he's trained to detain the person

until Houser arrives.

"But we're not out to bite people, we're out there to find people," he

said. In fact, Houser added, the dogs usually have a 15 percent bite rate

because the suspect usually yells to the officer to call the animal off.

One of the best ways that citizens can assist the K-9 unit, as well as

the other departments in the Sheriff's Office, is to be observant of their

surroundings and to call police if they see anything suspicious.

After hearing about Riggs, the participants of the Citizen's

Academy heard a presentation by Sgt. Ken Wardstrom, who is facilitating the

13-week King County Sheriff's Office academy. He showed a video

about how most people don't know or care what's going on in their neighborhood.

The video was a true story about a television production crew

who moved a "serial killer" into a neighborhood in Anytown, USA. On

the first day, the crew played a tape recording of several gunshots and

had their serial killer walk around with an ax. Then, at night, the man began

digging a hole in his yard with only a flashlight to light the way.

There were no reactions from his neighbors.

The next day the serial killer splattered red paint on the front

windows to look like blood and hired a backhoe to continue the digging he

began the night before.

Only a dog took notice and barked.

On the third day, he put a mattress in the garbage painted with the

same red substance, but the sanitation workers just loaded the large cargo into

the truck. In desperation the serial killer changed his address to "666" and

sat in his front yard listening to nursery rhymes.

Still no questions from the neighbors.

The television announcer said the neighborhood apparently

subscribed to the idea that "If you can't say

anything nice, don't say anything at all," but that's exactly what the police

departments don't want residents to do.

"If something doesn't seem right, it might not be," Wardstrom said.

"And that's when you should call police."

After all, neighbors of John Wayne Gacy - who killed more than 30

young men in Chicago - said, "Other than construction work outside,

nothing was unusual."

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