Archive for Monday, April 2, 2007

Lawrence resident is pioneer in training canines for police use

April 2, 2007


Tom Brenneman is in charge of a workplace where commands are given in German, some workers walk on four legs, and those who walk on two legs sometimes do their work in three-inch thick suits.

One of those workers wearing such a suit is Brent Carlin, a deputy marshal for the city of Las Vegas, who is covered in sweat in part because thick suits are hot and in part because an 80-pound German shepherd hangs from his covered arm by its teeth.

"Aus," yells Brenneman, giving the dog the German command to let go.

The dog drops to its feet and hesitates for a moment, waiting for its next command.

"Platz," he yells, telling the dog to get down.

This is how dogs learn how to bite in the course of becoming police dogs. This is also how law enforcement officers from all over the United States learn to handle police dogs.

Many of them are taught to do it by Brenneman at his business in North Lawrence called Vom Kaiserhofe. It's one of the few places in the United States where police dogs and officers are trained in an ever-growing practice of using canines in law enforcement.

Once rare

There was a time when Tom Brenneman was the only law enforcement officer in Kansas who had a dog trained to do police work, such as sniffing out drugs, bombs, dead bodies, live bodies and even termites.

That time was 1977, when he worked as a sheriff's deputy in Harvey County.

Today he says about 160 specially trained dogs are scattered among law enforcement agencies across the state.

"Now almost every department in the state, county and city has dogs," Brenneman said. "Kansas is a small part of our business. Our business is nationwide."

Each year since Brenneman retired from law enforcement in 2000, Vom Kaiserhofe trains roughly 50 European-bought German shepherds and similar breeds to become police dogs.

Officers from as far away as both coasts and as far north as Canada spend several weeks in Lawrence to become handlers of dogs that Brenneman gets from Europe for about $5,000 apiece.

They have to come from overseas, Brenneman says; breeding is closely monitored in Europe to ensure bloodlines are kept pure, which produces the best dogs for police work.

"It's like breeding for horse races," Brenneman said.

One bite

The most dramatic exercises dogs go through at Vom Kaiserhofe - German for "from king's empire" - are when they're taught how to bite people.

The dog's teeth cannot be felt through the three-inch thick training suits, but the pressure from their jaws are unmistakable.

Brenneman said many people have the misconception that police dogs are trained to ravage criminals they're sent after.

"When these dogs are trained, they're taught to bite one time," he said. "They're not taught to rip people open."

Furthermore, the canines aren't used as much for ferreting out and attacking criminals as they are for sniffing out drugs or bombs.

Law enforcement personnel insist that dogs add another element to fighting crime.

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office, for instance, has one canine it uses mostly for drug detection.

"A (police service dog's) sense of smell is 100 times greater than a human," said Lt. Kari Wempe. "A PSD is able to locate evidence, suspects, or drugs that an officer may not. A PSD is also used for officer safety when the PSD would be deploy(ed) in a dangerous environment that would be dangerous for officers to enter in order to make an apprehension, building searches and locating missing persons."

Some critics of police dogs fear that law enforcement can become too reliant on a dog's sense of smell to produce evidence with no easy way to check whether the dog is well-trained.

"That's the problem with dogs," said Lawrence attorney John Frydman. "You can't cross-examine them."

So far, the use of canines on police forces has passed the constitutional smell test; the United States Supreme Court ruled in the 1980s that a dog's ability to sniff out drugs didn't violate the Fourth Amendment.


Brenneman says there's isn't much to teaching a dog to learn to sniff for drugs or bombs on the face of it.

"They all have their own odor," he said. "It's like teaching a dog the difference between a quail and a pheasant."

When Brenneman still worked in law enforcement, he and his dogs were part of several major drug busts.

One such bust put a drug-trafficking leader in jail for eight years in 1993 when Brenneman was working for the Stafford County Sheriff's Department.

That prompted a group of the jailed man's acquaintances to exact revenge on Brenneman, which they did by staking him out him at his home.

When Brenneman was gone one day, the men drugged one of his police dogs to render it unresponsive.

"They put him over the hood of my car and slit his throat," Brenneman said.

Despite that, Brenneman's work as a police dog trainer continued.

"It was just the sad facts of what happened," he said. "That was the first dog in the state of Kansas that had been ambushed in that way."


lawrencian 11 years ago

lmr: thanks, I was just thinking the same thing! LOL Although, I was thinking it is more like "From the emperor's palace"...

leadrain 11 years ago

YO, great job training, but how about training them for rescue or to look for drugs only. I"ve had a childhood experience that involved a " Warlock Doberman " which grabbed me by the arm and DRAGGED me UP the stairs. It hurt, a lot. However, if you were to harness that energy, I can forsee many instances where that kind of strength... and pain, could be applied to SAVE lives, not just making a person wish they were.

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