Feb. 23 -- Deputies, federal screeners and private security guards are getting help in protecting Palm Beach International Airport.
Bomb-sniffing dogs and their deputy handlers have started casing the airport's gates, baggage counters and planes for signs of suspicious packages, unusual odors and anything else out of place, the Sheriff's Office and federal transportation officials announced Thursday.
Three German shepherds, a German short-haired pointer and a vizsla have been assigned to the airport full-time as part of the federal Transportation Security Administration's plan to beef up law enforcement presence in the nation's airports. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International and Miami International also have dogs.
The Sheriff's Office has sent dogs to the airport for years to sniff for drugs and respond to emergencies, but this is the first time they are permanently based there. Federal transportation authorities are helping the Sheriff's Office pay for the K-9 teams. The exact cost wasn't provided.
"The public will get a benefit from this without a doubt," Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said.
Four dogs and their handlers began patrolling Palm Beach International in September after completing a 10-week training program at the TSA facility at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Another dog and handler are expected to join them next month. The dogs live with the handlers.
So far, they haven't detected anything serious, officials said. However, there was a two-hour evacuation of the airport on Feb. 10 prompted by a bomb scare over magic show props. The materials came from a magician who was flying home to Los Angeles after doing a show at the Versace mansion in Miami Beach, officials said. Screeners flagged his butane tank.
"This is a job where I hope we don't find anything," said Deputy Rick Barnett as he walked Omar, his 2-year-old German shepherd.
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The TSA is bringing six bomb-detection dogs to help secure transportation facilities around the state.
The dogs will begin patrolling the airport within six to nine months. The airport currently depends on the Pima County Sheriff's Department to send a bomb-sniffing dog and handler.
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The federal agency responsible for scrutinizing passengers and baggage plans to team up with the RCMP to test the use of bomb-sniffing German shepherds.