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Feeling the Love
For Our 4-Legged Friends
ntroduced to the community in September, Charlie, a 2-yearold Labrador retriever, is the first and only electronic-detection forensic K-9 in Pennsylvania and one of fewer than two
dozen dogs across the country trained in electronic detection.
As technology becomes more advanced, child pornographers
are using smaller, more discreet devices to hide their crimes. The
smallest of these devices is easy to conceal, beneath floorboards,
in crevices and hidden compartments where they are undetectable to the naked eye.
That's why the Internet Crimes Against Children task force
in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, which serves the entire state,
brought in Charlie, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever capable of
sniffing out even the smallest and most well-hidden of electronics, to aid them in their searches for evidence of child exploitation.
"As years have progressed, in the area of technology, the flash
drives and the microdisks all have gotten very small - some are
so small that they're the size of a thumbtack, and it's easy for our
detectives to go in and miss that," said Delaware County District
Attorney Jack Whelan, in an interview with Forensic Magazine.
"Charlie can find anything that the detectives miss, and quite
often Charlie is hitting on electronic devices that the detectives
may have missed - or areas in which electronic devices were
Charlie is trained to detect the scent of specific chemicals
found in small electronics such as flash drives, external hard
drives and micro SD cards. These devices can be used to store
electronic evidence of crimes against children, including child
pornography. Aware of the ability to improve their investigative toolset by employing an electronics-sniffing K-9, Delaware
County District Attorney Jack Whelan and members of the ICAC
team were connected to Charlie. This connection came through
the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which helped fund
Charlie's six weeks of training at a specialized facility for police
dogs in Ohio and an additional two weeks of training with her
handler Nat Evans, a forensic analyst with ICAC.
"The training method consisted, as you would expect, of rewards for good behavior, and her behavior in finding electronics
was rewarded simply not by food or treats but by using a tennis
ball and playing with her," Whelan explained.
There are only about two dozen electronics-sniffing dogs in
the United States, and Charlie is the first to go to work in the
state of Pennsylvania. While most of her recent work has been
concentrated in Delaware County, it is expected that Charlie will
go on to help with searches across the state and possibly nearby
states as well, wherever she is needed.
For many years, dogs have been used by police to sniff out
evidence and illicit substances, including drugs, explosives, illegal wildlife and arson accelerants. In addition to finding electronic evidence of child exploitation, device-sniffing dogs like Charlie have also been used to find cellphones smuggled into prisons.
The FBI introduced its first electronics-sniffing dog, a black Lab
named Iris, in August of 2016. Whelan says Labs make especially good detection dogs due to their high intelligence and nonaggressive nature. Charlie has not only improved the investigative potential of the task force, but has been an emotional benefit
to the members of the team who deal with the reality of serious
and upsetting crimes on a regular basis.
"Everyone who meets Charlie loves her, so we're very happy
to have her," Whelan said. "[ICAC investigators] are dealing
with cyber tips of children being abused, child pornography,
something that's just horrendous to deal with day in and day out.
Charlie now acts as a therapeutic dog and actually relaxes people
in a way that we never anticipated."
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