Dog can sniff out hidden cellphones, thumb drives and more
HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A dog’s sense of smell is said to be thousands of times stronger than a human’s, enabling dogs to detect things human senses might miss, such as a thumb drive containing child pornography but disguised as a toy.
Electronic storage detection dogs are specially trained to sniff out devices such as USB drives, cellphones, SD cards, computers and other electronics, making them helpful for investigations of child pornography, drug dealing, terrorism and other cybercrimes.
It was an ESD dog named Bear that found a thumb drive used to later convict ex-Subway spokesman Jared Fogle, who was sentenced to more than 15 years in federal prison for child pornography and sexual conduct involving minors.
And now there is a fully trained ESD dog in the Altoona area: Kimo, a yellow stock Lab imported from the Netherlands.
“If someone is involved in some type of cybercrime, specifically child pornography, they’re not going to have this stuff on their laptop computer where investigators can easily find it,” said James Walstrom, owner of Keystone K9 and Security and former Altoona police officer.
“They’re not going to have it on a thumb drive sitting out on a table somewhere. It’s going to be hidden, and it’s going to be hard to find.”
“He (Kimo) is able to find cellphones. He is able to find computers and things that are pretty simple for most people to find. But then when you get down to the smaller stuff, that’s when it becomes important,” Walstrom added.
Walstrom adopted Kimo on Jan. 20 from Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, where the dog completed five weeks of initial training. The company is currently training two more dogs to find electronics. John Brannon, president of Shallow Creek Kennels, said it takes six weeks to fully train these dogs. The company charges $12,000 for their ESD dogs.
Since Kimo’s adoption, Walstrom said he has been training him daily at his white-paneled facility tucked behind a house at the end of a narrow side road in Hollidaysburg.
The facility is set up to imitate the inside of a house. To the left is a shelf and a table surrounded by four chairs for the dining area and two couches and two loveseats next to a shelf with a television on top for the living area. To the right are boxes of different sizes scattered on the floor in front of an L-shaped wall made of particle boards dotted with outlets hung at various heights.
For training purposes, Walstrom uses a wide range of electronic storage devices, including a dog tag that holds a micro SD card, a pinhole camera disguised as a wall coat hook and a snowman bracelet containing a thumb drive.
“The technology is only about two years old with this kind of dog,” Julie Cruse, a canine handler who works with Walstrom, said. “This is a pretty revolutionary field, and that’s why there are so few of them in the United States.”
There are two distinct scents for electronics. One is given off by the circuit boards of storage devices like micro SD cards. The other is found on DVDs, CDs and floppy disks.
Dr. Jack Hubball, a forensic science examiner at the Connecticut Forensic Lab, successfully isolated both of these chemical compounds using a thermal desorption extraction method. Canine trainers were then able to use the two compounds to train dogs to search for electronics.
Brannon, who initially trained Kimo, said “We pair the signature scent with the reward object and play a game of hide-and-seek with the dogs. And the dog uses it olfactory capabilities in order to locate the scented toy and the odor of the electronics in it . then the dog believes he is looking for the toy.”
During a training session with the Mirror, Kimo was able to locate a thumb drive hidden in the crack of a shelf and a cellphone placed inside a book with its pages cut out. A passive dog, Kimo sits or stares when he detects an electronic device.
Kimo is now fully trained and ready for use by the community, said Walstrom.
“The Blair County District Attorney’s Office is excited to have yet another cutting edge resource available to aid in prosecuting crimes involving electronic storage media,” said Blair County First Assistant District Attorney Peter Weeks. “This would include crimes ranging from the storage and dissemination of child pornography to drug trafficking offenses. We will be utilizing Mr. Walstrom and his canine, circumstances permitting, whenever appropriate during an investigation.”
Shawna Hoover, executive coordinator of Operation Our Town, said “Operation Our Town is pleased to hear of the new ESD dog that is now available for use in the area. With one of its capabilities being that it can be used for drug cases, it will be another resource to help our local law enforcement keep the community safe.”
Walstrom said he expects Kimo to be used primarily for child pornography investigations. According to Jeffrey Petucci, trooper for Pennsylvania State Police, the computer crimes unit conducted 209 child pornography cases across the state last year.
After retiring from more than 30 years of searching for narcotics, Walstrom said there is more of a reward when it comes to child pornography searches.
“I’ve done thousands of narcotic search warrants and searches with the dogs, but this is a little bit of a different story,” Walstrom said. “Not that drugs aren’t dangerous, of course they are, but this is a little bit more prideful to us to be able to offer this type of search and be able to take that type of person off the street even versus a drug dealer.”
Delaware County got the first ESD dog in the state last September: A Labrador retriever named Charlie. In 2016, Selma, trained by the Connecticut State Police, became the first electronic storage detection dog in the world.
Information from: Altoona Mirror, http://www.altoonamirror.com