COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Three universities are getting bomb-sniffing dogs through a pilot program that officials eventually hope to expand so there are canines at each state university in Ohio.
The dogs being presented Monday at Youngstown State University, Tuesday at Ohio State University and Wednesday at Bowling Green State University have been trained to detect explosives and will be used only for that purpose, Ohio Department of Public Safety Director John Born said.
The effort is part of Gov. John Kasich's plans to strengthen school safety for students ranging from preschool to college age, Born said. Beyond responding if there are threats, the dogs could be assets for security sweeps in large-scale events, such as athletic games, visits by dignitaries or concerts.
Some schools already have such dogs, but the goal is to develop a core group of canines and handlers spread throughout the state that will train together, a collaboration meant to build a support network among them.
"There's just not enough explosives dogs in the state for the need depending on where you are, so this is hopefully the beginning of a more comprehensive effort," Born said.
It costs more than $12,700 to purchase each animal in the program and pay for its initial training and equipment, and Ohio Homeland Security is covering those costs with existing federal grant money that was either unobligated or repurposed, Born said. Police agencies at the universities had to provide and pay the officers who have been training for weeks as the dogs' full-time handlers.
Participating universities also have to agree that the dogs will be available for mutual aid in their regions if there is an off-campus need, such as a threat at a high school.
The first three schools were chosen with considerations for the need for the dogs, geographic diversity and input from a group of safety officials from Ohio's state universities, which support the idea behind the program.
"This way, there's a cadre of explosive dogs available for the state of Ohio for the purpose of protecting the citizens of Ohio in a very organized, efficient way, that has a reduced time for response," said police Chief John Peach at Kent State University, which has one bomb dog and hopes to get a second one.
Another benefit of the dogs within the campus environment is that the canines seem to be well-received and make police more approachable for students, Peach said.
The state hopes to deploy several more dogs to different universities in the next round of the program, possibly later this year.