The MTA Police Department just gained 52 extra boots, err, paws on the ground to help detect explosive devices.
Thirteen canines and their human counterparts graduated from the department’s explosives detection and anti-terrorism training and were honored at a ceremony at Grand Central Terminal on Thursday. The K-9s are officially police officers and have small police shields attached to their collars.
“In our post-9/11 world, the MTA PD canine unit is crucial to our counterterrorism efforts and keeping the public safe,” MTA Chief of Police Owen Monaghan said in a statement. “Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, canine officer teams maintain a watchful presence over the MTA’s entire system, patrolling our stations, platforms, trains and parking lots. Last year alone, the unit responded to over 25,000 calls for service and cleared 4,015 unattended packages.”
The new explosive detection officers completed an intensive 12-week course at the MTA PD’s training center in Dutchess County. The 72-acre facility is the nation’s only mass transit-specific training center. It features nine indoor training areas and several outdoor fields and obstacle courses, as well as cars, buses, platforms and a decommissioned train that enables unlimited scenarios to teach, test and drill the dogs.
With about 50 dogs on the force, the MTA PD has one of the biggest canine bomb squads in the United States, and only about one in 30 is skilled enough to graduate the program, the agency said.
Eleven of the 13 new dog grads will be active members of the MTA PD. They’ll investigate suspicious packages and patrol trains, stations, tracks and facilities of the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad and Staten Island Railway, a territory of 5,000 square miles in 14 counties in New York and Connecticut.
The other two explosives detection dogs will join the United States Park Police to patrol the Statue of Liberty and the city of Peekskill, sister agencies of the MTA PD.
Keeping with tradition, the new canine officers were named after fallen police officers, firefighters and military members. Canine Pags, partner of Officer Brian McCormack, was named after MTA PD Lt. John Pagnoni, who was one of the first trainers and supervisors of the canine unit. Pagnoni died of natural causes in 2016.
Though they are new to the force, the bomb detection teams were already put to work back in December as extra patrol units at Grand Central and Penn Station after attempted suicide bomber Akayed Ullah detonated an improvised explosive in the pedestrian tunnel between the Times Square subway station and Port Authority Bus Terminal, the MTA said.