Most police officers wear their badges on their uniforms, but one of the newest members of the Yale Police Department wears his badge on a collar.
Eli, a two-year-old black Labrador, is technically referred to as the “Explosive Ordinance Detection Canine.” But behind the serious name lies a fun-loving dog with an appetite that never ceases and an affinity for chasing squirrels.
Eli and his handler, Officer Charles Hebron, recently become part of the joint Yale-New Haven Bomb Squad. Yale Police Department Chief James Perrotti decided that it was time for the Department to acquire its own dog instead of relying on the resources of the New Haven Police Department.
Perrotti said Hebron, a bomb technician, and Eli are on duty at many local events, including all home football games and visits by high-profile individuals to Yale.
“It’s the evolution of the services we provide,” Perrotti said. “In the everyday work we do, we are called upon for items that look suspicious to people. We’re now able to respond to those quickly with not only a certified bomb technician, but also with a certified canine.”
Eli hails from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization which trains guide dogs, but his personality was not suited for the program. The Connecticut State Police selected Eli for the YPD instead, and the dog received high-quality, specialized explosives detection training from the state.
In a practice that Hebron said is common among police dog handlers, Eli is not only Hebron’s work partner, but also his pet. Spending so much time together is helpful for their professional relationship, he said. Hebron was bit by a Department of Defense dog during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Yale last year, an incident he blamed on that dog’s inability to interact with people.
“When you don’t take dogs home at night, they aren’t real sociable,” he said. “Eli goes home with me every night. He’s like my toddler child.”
The two play fetch and tug-of-war daily, Hebron said, but Eli also knows when it’s time to go to work.
Every day, Hebron hides small amounts of explosives in the New Haven area, and the dog is rewarded with food upon finding the suspicious substances.
“I strap his food to my gun belt and ask him if he is ready to go to work,” he said. “When the feedbag goes on, he knows it’s time to get into the game.”
Yale has had three bomb incidents since the ’70s, though no fatalities have occurred. While Hebron said he and his canine counterpart have had to deal with a lot of stress on the job — in one incident, someone wrote the word “boom” on a mailbox — Eli has not yet found threatening explosives.
“We hope Eli never finds anything,” Hebron said. “If he finds anything, then we’ve got problems.”
Still, Perrotti said, Eli’s presence is comforting to the community. If someone sees something suspicious, Eli’s training can be put to the test and areas can be swept and deemed safe.
In his short time at Yale, Eli has already become popular among members of the YPD — he provides comic relief and a calming effect in the otherwise stressful environment within the Police Department, both Perrotti and YPD Lt. Michael Patten said.
“He lightens things up, that’s for sure,” said Patten, a favorite of Eli’s. “You can’t help but lighten up when he puts his head to your hand.”
Eli will be on duty tonight at the Yale Political Union debate featuring Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.