Ventnor K-9 Units are Lt. David Gaeckle and his partner Axel, and Officer Marc Franco Jr. and his partner Joker.

ALBANY, N.Y. – Two Atlantic County police K-9 units took top awards at the USPCA National Detector Dog Trials held May 5-8 in Albany.

The Ventnor City Police Department K9 Unit was among the 52 teams from across the U.S. who competed, including Lt. David Gaeckle and his partner Axel, and Officer Marc Franco Jr. and his partner Joker. Also competing was the Stockton University Police Department’s Lt. Tracy Stuart and her partner Hemi.

Stockton’s team took top honors in the explosives detection team category for the second year in a row. Ventnor’s team took first place in the narcotics detection competition, and Gaeckle and Axel placed ninth overall in the individual narcotics competition.

Stockton University Police Department’s Lt. Tracy Stuart and her partner Hemi.

The annual event brings certified detector dogs and their handlers together for training, certification and competition. Teams are evaluated on accuracy, precision, quality of handling, and overall performance of both the dog and the handler. Winners achieve national certification in the areas of explosives detection, narcotics detection and accelerant detection.

Forty-one teams competed in the explosives detection competition. In Phase One of the competition, participating dogs had to pass a nationally established odor recognition test, in which they were required to sniff 18 cans and detect the six that contained explosive materials.

Phase Two involved three practical tests – room searches, package searches and vehicle searches. Stuart and Hemi placed fifth in room searches and first in package searches. Both phases were judged by nationally certified individuals from around the country who are active or retired canine handlers and trainers.

Last year Stockton hosted the trials and Stuart and Hemi received the same top team title for explosives detection. Since the USPCA’s establishment in 1971, this is the first time a team has achieved two consecutive first place championship wins.

“With such great competition on someone else’s home field, we are completely validated.” Stuart said. “It wasn’t just luck last year.”

Stuart credited hard work and preparation with her trainer, retired Chief Thomas Conroy, for their success.

“It was incredible,” she said. “I was beyond words. It was truly a monumental moment not only in my career but in my life. Hard work and preparation is everything, with a little luck and the grace of God, of course.”