- Police dogs can be trained to sniff out electronics like cell phones, thumb drives, computers, and memory cards.
- These dogs can find anything with digital storage by training them to recognise the scent of TPPO, a chemical that coats memory chips to protect them from overheating.
- The Connecticut State Police Department started this program in 2012 to help investigators find digital evidence to crimes.
- Some dogs have sniffed out key pieces of evidence in child pornography and exploitation cases, as well as counter-terrorism and fraud.
Police dogs at the Connecticut State Police Department are trained to sniff out electronics. They can find anything with digital storage, such as cell phones, thumb drives, computers, and memory cards. The program started in 2012 to help investigators find digital evidence to crimes.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: These police dogs aren’t looking for illegal drugs or explosives. They’re looking for something that most of us have on us at all times: mobile phones.
George Jupin: Every crime is usually touching some sort of digital evidence. Mobile phone’s ubiquitous. Everybody has a cell phone, so it’s important a lot of times to find these devices if they are hidden or discarded.
Narrator: Detective George Jupin is the proud owner of Selma, the first dog ever trained to sniff for electronics. Selma is part of a pilot program at the Connecticut State Police Department. The program trains dogs to find devices that store data. Since 2012, they have trained nine dogs and they have shared their knowledge with other police departments so they can train their own dogs. Selma and the other dogs in training aren’t just looking for cell phones. They’re looking for anything that might store data. Things like thumb drives, computers, SD cards, and cameras. Before the program existed, investigators had a hard time finding digital evidence.
Kerry Halligan: And they found as they were doing their investigations that they were missing pieces. They could find paperwork, but they were missing devices that could have stored a lot of information, and they asked if, “Is there any chance that we can train a dog to find a thumb drive?” I think was the first thing they asked.
Jupin: A lot of the work we do is crimes against children or child exploitation work where we’re looking for devices that have illegal content on them. So that can range from desktop or laptop computers to smartphones and removable devices like USB drives or flash drives.
Narrator: In 2015, an electronic-sniffing dog found a hidden thumb drive at Jared Fogle’s house. It ended up being a key piece of evidence in the case against the former Subway spokesperson. The dogs are used in other scenarios too like counter-terrorism cases where someone could be storing documents or plans on a hidden thumb drive. Or in cases of fraud where proof of fraudulent businesses or forged documents could be found on a concealed laptop.
Jupin: We got called out to a scene where the concern was that there might be some hidden cameras throughout the house. Brought Selma in and we searched the house – each floor of the house and each room in the house and when we got into one of the bathrooms, Selma alerted to a vent. Inside that vent, we discovered there was a miniature camera.
Narrator: So how exactly do these dogs manage to smell something that, to us, doesn’t have much of a scent? Humans have about 6 million olfactory receptors in our noses. Dogs have up to 300 million. So, they obviously have a much better sense of smell. To get these dogs to sniff out electronics specifically, the K9 team sent a bunch of devices to their lab which was able to isolate one specific scent.
Jupin: The compound we use is triphenylphosphine oxide, TPPO for short.
Narrator: TPPO is a chemical that coats memory chips to protect them from overheating. With TPPO isolated, handlers can train the dogs to locate devices.
Halligan: All that is, is a simple food reward system. We have the dogs smell the odor, they’re rewarded with food. Smell the odor, rewarded with food repetitively.
Narrator: The dogs learn to associate the smell of the chemical with being fed and that’s what motivates them to search for it. They start out by smelling the pure chemical in a jar so they can really master the scent. Once a dog gets that down, they move on to real devices to see if they can identify the smell of TPPO when it’s inside a device. And even though all dogs have a good sense of smell, they aren’t all right for the job.
Jupin: We’re looking for dogs that are methodical in their searches, that aren’t easily excitable, that can be around a lot of people, that can be in areas that are confined. And the temperament of the Labradors fits that profile and that’s why we use them exclusively.
Narrator: Once the Labradors know the TPPO scent, the real training starts. Halligan hides devices in cars and then sets them on fire. This is to train the dogs to identify the smell of TPPO even if the device has been torched. The dogs also do room searches. So they become familiar with searching an indoor environment. When a dog locates a device, it sits down to alert its handler. The handler then asks the dog to point to it again. And then gets more food.
Man: Show me? That’s a good boy.
Narrator: The dogs only get fed if they have smelled TPPO first. That way, they continue to stay motivated to find it.
Man: Good dog. That’s a good boy.
Narrator: But don’t worry, they do get enough food. And they even get to have normal lives outside of work.
Jupin: She comes with me to work and she comes with me back home. I mean, she’s like family.
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