MPD K9 take honors at prestigious competition

When it comes to finding hidden explosives, nobody in this part of the world tops Paul Pressley and his canine partner Juno. Looking for the best team to locate a suspect holed up in building? Blake McCarter and Riot are as good as it gets.

Morristown Police Department officers Pressley and McCarter, along with their around-the-clock companions – both Belgian Malinois – took top honors at a massive, four-day competition in Sevierville. State Sen. Steve Southerland caught wind of the extraordinary accomplishments and sponsored a Senate resolution recognizing the achievements.

Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney recently presented Pressley and McCarter with copies of the resolution.

While approximately 36 dogs from 25 agencies in at least three states participated in the competition, the field for Pressley and Juno was narrower because bomb dogs aren’t nearly as common. If a law enforcement agency has the funds to buy either a drug-sniffing and trafficking dog or a bomb dog, the choice is fairly easy.

Drug seizures can result in cash and vehicle confiscations, which directly benefit the law enforcement agency.

Bomb dogs are trained exclusively to detect explosives, about 20 varieties – both foreign and domestic – because American-made explosives smell differently than those manufactured in other countries, according to Pressley. Bomb dogs also must be trained to the point where they never give false indications.

If drug-detection or human-tracking dog gives a false indication, it’s basically a no-harm, no-foul situation. A false indication by a bomb dog could cause panic, or at least the mandatory evacuation of a school, a shopping center or a much larger venue like a sports arena or stadium.

Pressley and Juno’s task was to locate two types of explosives that were hidden inside a 1,000-square-foot structure. Their time was two minutes and 30 seconds, which bested the other seven bomb-dog teams and their closest competitor by three seconds.

McCarter and Riot’s competition included teams from every participating agency, and it took them just 11 seconds to locate the human target, who was hidden behind a door. The clock started when Riot entered the structure and the stopwatch stopped when McCarter announced Riot had found the target.

False indications, McCarter says, are disqualifying fouls in his competition. Tracking dogs like Rio are also trained to detect drugs. McCarter says Riot is expert in finding heroin, methamphetamine, Ecstasy – also known as Molly – and marijuana, along with crack cocaine and powder cocaine, which McCarter says have different scents.

Juno and Riot live with Pressley and McCarter, and when their careers are over, generally six or seven years, they will continue to live with their former partners. The Sevierville competition was the first top finish for McCarter. Pressley took top honors with another dog, Danno, in 2016.

When Juno retires, Pressley says, there will be another dog, and perhaps one after that for as long as he’s with the police department. As for awards, he hopes others are on the horizon.

“It’s proof that you’re actually putting in hard work and training and into the job, and giving back to your community,” Pressley said. “If your dog is good, it shows your hard work. You can give a dog to anybody, but how you read the dog reflects on you as an individual. It’s cut-and-dried.”