On a quiet Sunday afternoon next to Inspiration Lake, police cars suddenly flashed their lights and sirens while cops doled out handcuffs and showed off the biting skills of a K-9 patrol dog. No, there were no dangerous criminals on the loose or worrisome emergencies: This all took place at the city of Gaithersburg’s second annual Junior Detective Day at the Kentlands Mansion.
Thirty-four Gaithersburg children sat assembled into four teams on July 22. to begin a two-hour adventure to discover what it takes to effectively fight crime in their neighborhoods.
The group was divided into “squads,” and each child received a knapsack in which to carry their detective tools and other loot along with them. Then the squad leaders led the children to their first station.
At station one, the kids chose code names and were fingerprinted using a real fingerprinting kit. Armed with this fun souvenir, the group moved on to the next station, where Officer Dan Lane pulled out a large, black belt with many tools attached to it.
“Have you guys ever seen a Batman belt?” Lane asked. A handful of young boys simultaneously shook their heads but insisted that, “yeah,” they had.
The “Batman” belt featured holsters carrying pepper spray, a Taser, extra bullets and a set of handcuffs. “We call them bracelets,” said Lane. “Because everyone, [even a criminal,] likes a little bling.”
Lane also explained that a bad guy who didn’t listen to a police officer’s words and decided to run away could be charged with theft for the handcuffs, which cost the police $25 apiece.
As the kids took turns trying on the heavy belt and posing for pictures for mom and dad, Lane explained that he also carried gloves with him. “Because bad guys are stinky.”
On the front lawn of the mansion, station three featured a police truck guarded by Officer Jonathan Bennett and a 3-year-old K-9 police dog named Judah. Judah was trained as both a patrol dog and a drug dog, with biting as a far less-used skill. “He is a tracker, a smeller and a locator,” said Bennett.
Bennett explained that unlike humans, who have difficulty differentiating between smells when there are many subtle scents near us, Judah can break down the odors around him, sorting through them to find the one he has been commanded to find. It took 14 weeks to train Judah, plus an additional eight weeks with Bennett.
Despite what is often shown on tv, he said, the last resort of the police dog is to bite the criminal. “The bad guy decides whether or not he gets bitten,” based on whether they keep running from the dog and the police officer.
The fourth station featured “marked” and “unmarked” police cars with flashing lights. Officer John Paulichen invited the children to sit in the cars and explore the gadgets. They also tried out the “bad guy seat” in the back of the patrol car, which all admitted was “hard” and “so uncomfortable.”
Paulichen said the city of Gaithersburg has six unmarked police vehicles. His car, which he uses mostly for traffic safety, came equipped with 368 horsepower.
All participants then gathered in the front of the mansion to see a final K-9 demonstration. “Who wants to see Officer Lane get [bitten]?” Bennett asked the crowd. He then ordered Judah to chase Lane and bite his arm, which was protected for the occasion by a thickly padded armband.
Following much enthusiastic applause for the demonstration, Gaithersburg Police Chief Mark Sroka held an official swearing-in ceremony, asking the children to line up, raise their right hands, and take an oath to protect their community and respect authority as official junior detectives.
While badges and ice cream were distributed, Sroka thanked the parents for bringing their kids to the event.
“These are their formative years, so we hope today we have left a positive impression.”