Human Odor, Not Gunpowder, Led To .380
by Paul Bass | Apr 25, 2011 3:00 pm
Posted to: Newhallville, Cop of the Week
Cops chased the alleged gun traffickers and caught up with them on the Farmington Canal Trail. But a handgun was still missing somewhere out in the dark. It was time to call in a top crime-fighter on four legs.
Bitang had been on the beat for less than a year. But it took him just a moment to sniff out the .380 nestled in a pitch-black embankment. It could have taken a team of two-legged colleagues hours to find it that night.
Some police dogs, like the two “explosives” black labs on New Haven’s force, are trained to sniff for gunpowder. Others, like the department’s two yellow labs, learn to sniff for narcotics.
Bitang is one of three rookies, all “dual purpose” German Shepherds, that have begun working regular patrol with human cops. These dogs don’t sniff for gunpowder. They don’t specialize; they do assignments ranging from missing-persons to building-searches to narcotics to, more and more these days, guns.
When it came time to find the handgun after the canal trail chase, Bitang sniffed for human odors, not gunpowder. That’s how he discovered the .380.
The mood had been tense: The traffickers had allegedly tried to run over officers. They were armed. They fled before cops caught them. But a celebration broke out as Bitang’s proud companion, Officer Renee Forte, rewarded the Shepherd by throwing him his hollowed-out lacrosse ball on a rope, then playing tug-of-war. The other cops out on the trail that night joined in.
“I was a very proud mom,” recalled Forte. She and Bitang spend the entire evening shift together, and Bitang lives at Forte’s home.
The celebratory lacrosse-ball tug-of-war game repeated itself three times within a week as Bitang went on a gun-sniffing tear. As word has gotten around that the dual-purpose dogs can find weapons, officers on the trail of illegal guns have started calling for Bitang’s help more often.
Two days before the Munson Street chase, Forte and Bitang got a call at close to 7 p.m. from Officer Brian Pazsak. Pazsak had just chased a group of kids in Newhallville from Lilac Street to Shepherd. Pazsak found one of the kids in a house on Shepard. The kid had had a gun before police caught him. Now he didn’t. Forte and Bitang arrived in the bedroom where the suspect was caught. Bitang went straight to a boot on the floor. A .357 revolver was inside.
Forte and Bitang were close by Lilac Street a week later around 10 p.m. when fellow officers called for help again. They’d been poking around the basement of a house on the trail of gun-toting men. They didn’t find anyone in the basement. But the house’s residents were concerned. The Bilco doors to the basement had been left open. They were usually closed. Bitang headed right away to a dresser in the basement. Inside was a Hi-Point 45. Someone had been stashing it there.
“Smarter Than Humans”
On March 22, the night of the Munson Street chase, Forte didn’t realize at first that Bitang had found the .380 handgun.
Bitang had set off north up the trail from Munson Street and stopped right away at a crevice where a fence met an embankment. Forte figured he was following the scent of the fleeing alleged traffickers. “This must be where they jumped over the fence,” she figured.
So she brought him back to the spot where the chase began. They worked up the trail. When Bitang stopped as soon as they arrived again at the spot by the embankment.
Bitang is trained to lie down beside a found object. (He doesn’t do explosives.) In this case, “he kind of stood and pointed his head” toward the crevice, Forte recalled. “I said, ‘Let me look.’” Sure enough, the .380 was there.
Bitang was excited. “The game of finding evidence is one of his favorite to play. He knows if he lays down on it, he gets his ball,” Forte said. She was beaming, she said. “It’s like your kid hitting the home run and in the playoff and wins the game.”
“Most of the time,” Forte noted, the canines “are smarter than the humans.”
Forte (pronounced “forty”), who’s 31 and has been a New Haven officer since 2002, developed a bond with Bitang after winning an internal competition to become one of the department’s three new canine-patrol officers last year. Growing up in New Haven, Forte early one knew two facts about herself: She wanted to become a cop. And she loved dogs. Her family always had German Shepherds.
Bitang arrived from Czech Republic, where he had received basic tracking, obedience, and “suspect apprehension” training. He and Forte then underwent further training. The pair hit the streets last April. Meanwhile, Bitang settled into his own doggie bed at Forte’s home, sharing her attention there with her two other pets, a Vizsla and a chocolate Lab.
On the night shift, Bitang has Forte all to himself. The pooch’s playfulness at home turns to a no-nonsense frame of mind—at least until the lacrosse ball comes out.
“He looks like a big scary guy,” Forte said. “But he’s like a big teddy bear.”
The typical police dog lasts nine to ten years on the beat, Forte said. A dog’s handler decides when a dog needs to retire because of, say, arthritis brought on by hip displasia or just wearing out. After that, the dog remains in the handler’s care the rest of his life. For some retired police dogs, no longer on a mission, that end comes swiftly. Watching Forte with 4-year-old Bitang, one gets the sense that the pooch may have reason to enjoy his golden years. Meanwhile he should have plenty of work to do in New Haven’s neighborhoods.
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Lloyd Barrett
• Maneet Bhagtana
• Paul Bicki
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Sydney Collier
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Bertram Etienne
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Dan Hartnett
• Ray Hassett
• Robert Hayden
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• William Hurley & Eddie Morrone
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Paul Kenney
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• Luis & David Rivera
• Luis Rivera (2)
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• Stephan Torquati
• Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• John Velleca
• Holly Wasilewski
• Alan Wenk
• Michael Wuchek
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Officers Forte and Bitang ROCK! Its awesome to see hard-working officers in the news after the recent negative news surrounding the recent police politics.
I bet people will think twice about running when Officer Bitang is after them! Keep up the great work.
Police Officers: This might be a stupid tangent, but can someone explain to me why it seems a lot of hoodlums in this town carry .380 pistols? Are they more available than actual man stopping calibers ? Why would a killer use a temperamental $500 pistol that requires four or five rounds to drop a 200lb man AND keep the evidence around. Logic says you can do the same job with one shot from a $100 rifle far far away, drop it in a river when the job is done, and never get caught.
I guess if you are too stupid to avoid shooting at each other, you likely are not smart enough to do it in a way that makes sense either, eh?
It amazing that in the age of all sorts of scientific methodology like DNA matching, one of the best tools we have is the fabulous schnoz on this beautiful animal.
The success of the revitalized K-9 program rises and falls on the human half of the teams. NHPD has made many fine choices in selecting the officers assigned to the program, for both uniform and non-uniform work.
Renee and Bitang, along with the other members of the K-9 units have certainly proved that several NHPD Chiefs were way off base in their decisions to not resurrect the unit, after it was disbanded by Pastore.
Keep up the great work Renee and Bitang.
posted by: Lisa on April 25, 2011 9:31pm
These stories remind us of why we should support the K-9 unit. Hope to see people at Christopher Martins tomorrow night!
Congrats Officer Bitang and Forte! Wonderful partners and you make New Haven proud…so glad the K-9s are back and hopefully the K-9 force will grow. Best wishes to both of you and thank you for all your hard work.