Canine Help on Child Exploitation Cases

By Brent Smyth

Brent Smyth

Photographer

Sex Crimes

Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) investigators are employing the most basic of senses – scent – to combat those who commit crimes using the latest technology.

Blue, an electronics storage devices detection dog, is working alongside investigators helping root out evidence using only her nose since September at 15-months-old.

Her handler, Sex Crimes ICE Detective Vijay Shetty, said Blue has found storage devices in search warrants where officers were unable.

“It’s amazing to watch,” said Shetty, whose normal role is to investigate child predators whose job as her handler is to set up the parameters of the search and make sure that Blue comprehensively cover the search area. After months together, he will sense her heightened intensity when catching a scent with an extra tug of the leash or blow out of her nostrils. “She will sit when gets an odour.”

From there he can ask for more clues, sometimes she noses at an object, paws at it or gets up on her hind legs to indicate where exactly it is.

The odour Blue identified is not a scent emitted from plastics or metals in electronic devices, but rather a chemical coating present on memory storage devices to prevent overheating. This means she won’t pay attention to TVs, remotes and monitors, but have a narrowed down focus for devices such as USBs, laptops, SIM cards and hard drives – exactly where child exploitation images are hidden.

In her 11 search warrants, she has found devices at nine of the locations after an initial search didn’t uncover them.

After one search warrant, it was discovered that computers seized had downloaded files to an external hard drive that was never found.

When Shetty returned with Blue, he decided to start outside the home.

In intermittent rain and snow, Blue diligently nosed around the property eventually  pointing to a pile of stones under a deck. When officers start digging out the stones where they found a hard drive tucked away in a cinderblock. It’s alleged investigators found child abuse materials on the hard drive.

“Every one of our investigators is here to keep kids safe and make sure they don’t get exploited, it’s something that we all feel passionately about,” Shetty said. “Blue is adding to that effort. At the end of the day, she’s finding thing that we did not at search warrants and giving us assurance that we’ve done all we can.”

Blue was always destined to help people, receiving initial training as a service animal. It was discovered that the undersized Labrador had a better knack for sniffing rather than guiding.

“She is really guided by her nose,” said Shetty. “But she has the skill set already of a service animal, she is calm, she won’t bound and wag her tail like a pet.”

She was donated by Operation Underground Railroad, a non-profit organization that helps law enforcement and provide supports to survivors or child exploitation and human trafficking.

Blue is among over 100 dogs with this skill set working in North America.

Shetty received two weeks of training immediately bonding with Blue because of the intensity or their workload finding over 60 items a day in crawl spaces and cars, creeks and forests.

She was also welcomed into Shetty’s family, where she will play with family on days off or collapse by the couch after a 14-hour day.

“It’s been an amazing experience, my family has really embraced her right away,” said Shetty. “It’s the best of both worlds for me because I have a family dog that I can work alongside.”

His team has also embraced their new member, leaving him the second one greeted when they arrive to work.

“I know I’m not the one that people are excited to see – I’m okay with that.”

And as impressive as her electronic detection skills are, Detective Sergeant Barb Adam, who oversees the ICE section, said Blue's impact on her team is a huge benefit.

“Our job, working in internet child exploitation can be very challenging – the content that our officers deal with on a daily basis, it’s horrible. The difference in the atmosphere in the office with her being there - just being there, is incredible”

Blue spends every day in the office, and while she is often stuck to Shetty, she does check in on the team in her calm, easy-going way.

“She’ll walk over for no reason, just to visit somebody - and just say hi. There are more smiles, more laughs, and people are more content I feel. Pets can do that with people and she’s special,” Adam said.

You can follow Blue's adventures on Instagram at @tpsblueK9.

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