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K9s keep commuters safe at New Haven’s Union Station

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NEW HAVEN - Keeping commuters safe in Connecticut, over the last five years, has been the burden of the  Connecticut State Police Transit Safety Team.

While they do staff and monitor buses and boats, the team, complete with K9s, is mostly on track with trains.

“They focus on train station lobbies and platforms,” said Sgt. Steve Ostroski of the Connecticut State Police. “And these officers will actually get on board trains and ride the trains with the commuters.”

“They will pick up an odor of an explosive from great distances away,” said Ostroski of the keen K9 members of his team.

These canines are trained during a six-week imprintation process, during which scents from all sorts of explosives, is ingrained in them.

The dogs are trained in the food-reward method, where they never eat out of a bowl. When they locate an explosive, their handlers know because they sit.

A trust builds because they are together 24/7.

"We've been together for the last five years,” said Trooper P.J. Conway, whose black lab, Jackie, always eats out of his hand, even on days off.

Many of these dogs were initially trained as seeing eye dogs, but didn’t make the cut. So, the state police purchased the pooches.

“Jackie is in explosive detection, so she's imprinted to all of the explosive odors. We have our narcotic dogs and we also now have computer dogs that can find computer hard drives and such," said Conway.

If there is an undercover law enforcement officer present with a gun, they will know because they can also smell ammunition. In fact, they can smell explosives from great distances, especially if the wind and the odor are strong.

Especially in times of heightened safety concerns, a vast and visible police presence can be calming.

“They are very well protected when they are making their morning commute,” assured Ostroski.

Is there a feeling of commuter comfort?

“I wouldn’t say comfort, but I think you, at least you feel like there was something done,” said Alicia LaFitte, who’s from France, where she says family and friends escaped harm last Friday, as did she, near the finish line during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

“I just cannot live afraid and think about that every day," she said. "So, it's there and we have to handle it.”

It's a layered approach between the Connecticut State Police, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Amtrak and New Haven police.

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