I just recently had the opportunity to attend a seminar by the American Mantrailing Academy at the beginning of January 2011. This is a group dedicated to the long lost skills of tracking man and with the trainers in place it has over 100 years of tracking experience. There were two parts to this course: Man trailing 101 which is your basic course and Mantrailing advanced which goes more in depth from the basic class. The basic fundamentals to tracking man have not changed in the many years we've been doing it. However, over time and with the advancement of new equipment it has become somewhat of a lost art.
Our day began with a brief introduction by one of our instructors, Tony Keith. As you know with any class dedicated to law enforcement officers you get out of it what you put into it. We went over the basics of turned over leaves, scuffs in grass or gravel, broken branches which indicate direction, and ordinary items you may find in your surroundings that look out of place. Our first man track that we conducted was over one (1) mile long. This particular track went under downed trees, over rocks, along faces of small but steep cliffs, and through water. As we progressed from each point looking for our visual clues we would be greeted by one (1) card out of a deck of cards. This track we were looking for the diamonds in the suit. We were successful in running the track and able to collect all the cards in the deck. This process was very fun and if it is just a hint at why our K-9s love to track, I know now.
Our second day was on a very cold and blustery winter day. We had several inches of snow on the ground, blowing snow, and high winds. This was the first part of our advanced course. We went to a local park and our instructors set up two tracking scenarios for each team. The tracks were laid in a variety of ways and it was for us to decide where we would end up. Our group was selected to follow the traditional stars and bars boot print. The other group was trailing a different style boot. During these tracks both instructors would meet and walk together in an attempt to confuse each group. With the same as the first day, we were looking for the corresponding cards from the deck.
Now you wonder why this type of activity would matter to a K-9 officer. We hardly have the time to stop and look for the tell tale signs that someone has passed here recently. Usually we are focused on our K-9 and forget just about everything else. Tracking with your K-9 is probably one of the most dangerous activities that you can do. With this training came a real life scenario which the other K-9 handler, Officer Steve Morgan, who I work with, experienced.
He was called out on January 29, 2011 at approximately 0035 hrs to assist Kentucky State Police with a track. The subject to be tracked nearly ran two state troopers over that were conducting a road check in a surrounding county. The troopers gave chase and the suspect wrecked his truck and ran into a wooded area. The troopers immediately contacted our department to assist with running a track. The troopers were several counties away. Much to the credit of the state police they were able to immediately secure the vehicle, not to contaminate the ground around it too much, and set up a perimeter.
These steps taken by the troopers would prove to be crucial in the successful apprehension and evidence recovery that would soon take place. Officer Morgan arrived on scene with his K-9 partner. The track started at the suspect's truck. After one (1) mile of tracking the suspect into the woods, Officer Morgan and his K-9 recovered a loaded handgun that was tossed by the suspect. Officer Morgan then came to a creek bed. Using the skills that he acquired from our man tracking class Officer Morgan was able to see a scuff mark on the ground just on the other side of the creek. He also observed broken ice where the suspect had stepped. Officer Morgan was able to redirect his K-9 partner on the area that was scuffed allowing them to continue the track. After another mile Officer Morgan came to a heavily barbed wire fence. Officer Morgan again found himself looking for a safe place to cross. While looking, he observed the leaves and grass on the other side of this fence. Officer Morgan observed some leaves with missing frost on them. After he and his K-9 were able to get over the fence he redirected his K-9 to the area that had missing frost. After another ½ mile Officer Morgan and his K-9 not only located the holster which held the gun they recovered, but they were able to successfully apprehend the suspect.
Officer Morgan stated, "It was this incident that reminded me of how valuable the man trailing seminar was to me. It literally made the difference from catching the suspect to letting him get away. I would like anyone who has not taken this course to read my story and allow me to say that this is by far the most beneficial seminar I have ever attended and feel that every law enforcement officer should possess this knowledge to help them become better officers. It was because of my k9 that we located the suspect. It was because of the man trailing skills learned I could continue my k9 in a successful direction."
I don't need to get into how dangerous this situation was. It was at night, unfamiliar terrain for both officer and K-9, and tracking an armed suspect. This type of work exemplifies how important K-9s are to any department. Due to our department allowing us to host the Mantrailing Seminar Officer Morgan was able to apprehend an armed, violent felon. This seminar allowed him to use the skills he already possessed, along with the new ones that were learned from the seminar, to come to a successful conclusion. I would urge any K-9 handler to attend this type of seminar. To the gentleman of the American Maintrailing Academy, my hats off to you, job well done.