Everybody has heard of forensic labs as an effective tool for fighting crime. But yellow labs? It’s true. Our government has literally gone to the dogs, and that’s a good thing. Special Agent Criminal Investigator Terry Bohan, from the Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), oversees the world’s largest program to train dogs to detect explosives and serve as tools against terrorism. Since taking over the canine program in 2005, Bohan has reshaped it to be a world class operation, from the way canines are trained to a new focus on external partners.
As chief of ATF’s Canine Training and Operations Support Branch, Bohan continues to push the envelope in canine training research and development. With his expertise in explosives, background as a canine handler and nearly 20 years in public service, Bohan has gone from leading his one dog to leading an international effort to fight terrorism and ensure public safety with a 100 percent effective tool—dogs, specifically labs.
Bomb dogs are used in ATF’s arson and explosives investigations, and are crucial against fighting weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. At the Canine Training Facility in Front Royal, Virginia, Bohan and his team have developed new techniques and equipment— itting dogs with protective gear, training them to work in extreme conditions like heat and sand in Iraq, and even to work without their handlers present. Plus, they have created certification standards for the training of canines and their handlers.
Since 9/11, canines have become standard visuals in airports, at major sporting events, criminal trials and other major public gatherings. However, the skill levels of locally and federally trained canine teams were widely disparate at both ends of the leash. Often these dogs had not been trained to detect explosives and their handlers did not know how to identify or handle explosives. Bohan set out to close the training gap. Under his leadership, ATF provides training to local, state and federal law enforcement officials.
In 2005, Terry initiated a program to train other federal, state, local and military canine teams on how to detect TATP, an extremely volatile homemade explosive, used by the infamous “shoe bomber.” Breaking through some logistical and institutional roadblocks, his branch has provided TATP training to more 750 canine teams across the country.
The reach of Bohan’s work extends overseas. As an international ambassador, Bohan meets with foreign leaders as he promotes ATF’s canine program. The Canine Training Branch has trained more than 700 explosives canines for 19 different regions in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and more.
Bohan and his canine Baker have traveled together to Iraq and around the world, and Bohan’s training has helped our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan do their jobs better. Bomb dogs have become invaluable aids when it comes to finding roadside bombs. In May 2007, a canine discovered a 500 pound bomb in Iraq, and another dog located machine guns buried three feet underground, even though they were wrapped in plastic.
Some people might be tempted to trivialize Terrance Bohan’s work, because they think of dogs as pets, not crime fighters. But Bohan’s work is serious – serious as the bombs his dogs help to detect. In fact, Bohan’s training program should be met with praise, because it is a great example of our government’s thinking creatively and making sure that we are using every possible tool at our disposal to protect the American people. The fact that this new tool also happens to be adorable is just a fortunate side benefit.
Terrance Bohan certainly realizes how important his work is and what a tremendous impact he is having, and that is why he will continue working to make sure man’s best friend is one of terrorism’s worst enemies.