Police: Woman's best friend

By
February 19, 2011 11:48

The 3 female members of the Border Police’s K-9 Unit talk candidly with the ‘Post’ about their high-pressure work protecting the public.

4 minute read.



Border Police K-9 unit.

Border Police women 311. (photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)

By all accounts, the three young women sitting before me, all officers in the Border Police’s K-9 Unit, lead unusual lives.

During the day, they take part in vital security operations around Jerusalem, with specially trained dogs that sniff out explosives, arms and drugs. On other occasions, they are called to riot zones, where, in extreme situations, the muzzled animals will pin down Molotov-cocktail-throwing rioters, without causing them physical harm.

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At night, however, two out of the three go home to husbands and young children. “That’s our second shift,” joked St.-Sgt. Maj. Avital Gamliel, 29. “When I go home to see my child, I relax.”

“Both of our husbands were in the Border Police, so they know where we are coming home from,” said St.-Sgt. Maj. Moriah Sharavi, 28.

The youngest of the three, St.-Sgt. Adi Felix, 20, runs through the daily incidents the officers face.

“When we get to a riot where rocks are being thrown, we consult with local commanders on the ground and our own commander before we think about sending in the dogs,” she said. “Even if we are asked to send them in, we may decide not to.”

“We don’t have set hours. We could be on a four-hour ambush mission, or mobilized at any time to an incident,” Felix added.

On a grassy patch in Border Police headquarters, situated at the foot of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiya, the officers demonstrate how a dog pins down an officer pretending to be a rioter.

Upon command, the surprisingly friendly looking animal changes modes instantly, and leaps with great speed at the target, pinning him to the ground.

In real situations, such action enables security forces to arrest or subdue suspects they could not otherwise reach in the chaos of a major disturbance.

The officers stress that the dogs were specially trained by them individually, for six months, at a police academy in the Druse village of Usfiya, where they bonded with the animals and studied veterinary medicine and animal psychology.

Sharavi even admitted to watching an occasional episode of The Dog Whisperer. “I like it. The things they teach in it are correct,” she said.

DIFFERENT DOGS are used for different types of missions; patrol dogs are not the same animals that sniff out explosives or narcotics, the officers explained.

“Drug-seeking dogs are playful. They learn to smell the drugs, and when they find them, they put the drugs in their mouths and run to us.

Explosives-seeking dogs have a different character.

When they find what they’re looking for, they are trained to sit down next to the explosives,” Gamliel noted.

They are also tasked with ensuring that areas are safe for senior politicians and visiting diplomats. The Knesset’s helipad is a frequent area of operation for the officers.

The women describe the process of growing attached to the animals.

“It’s not just work, it’s about taking care of them, grooming them and showing them love.

This strengthens the bond between us,” said Gamliel.

After eight years, the animals are retired, and the officers are given the option of adopting them. Sharavi’s former dog, which she adopted from the Border Police after working with it for several years, died last month.

“We do this job out of love. We are here wholeheartedly,” Gamliel said.

On calm days, the officers take sniffer dogs to crowded areas like markets and festivals to search for explosives. As they walked down Jerusalem’s bustling Rehov Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall on Wednesday, they quickly became a tourist attraction, and were accompanied by numerous camera flashes directed at them. “It happens all the time,” Sharavi said with a hint of embarrassment.

IN THE entire police force, there are just four K- 9 female officers, and three of them serve in the Border Police in Jerusalem.

But the women say working within a predominantly male environment is a nonissue. “We are a family,” Gamliel said. “We’ve been together for nine years. Men and women are the same here.”

Gamliel recalled finding explosives during one search when she was five months’ pregnant.

The officers are sometimes called in to accompany IDF or police units in the West Bank, after receiving intelligence of arms being hidden in a location. In recent years, they added, they have been dealing with many more criminal cases and fewer terrorism-related incidents.

Patrol zones include the security fence in east Jerusalem, where illegal workers often attempt to cross from the West Bank.

Asked how they thought they were perceived by the Palestinian population, Gamliel said, “When we have to carry out searches, I make every effort not to offend them and to respect their religious sensitivities. I will ask those in a vehicle being searched to remove any religious items from the car, like a Koran, before the search begins.”

Sharavi said being a K-9 officer was “a lifelong profession. None of us wants to retire when we get to retirement age. This is an amazing experience.”


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