Police departments have long used dogs in their work, training canine squads to detect bombs and drugs. The Connecticut State Police have recently trained dogs to sniff out electronics as part of a new strategy to go after child pornographers.
Dogs are pretty bad at a lot of stuff. Ask a dog to do math, and it will fail. Contrary to the Air Bud franchise, dogs suck at playing basketball. But dogs are indisputably excellent at a few things, and one of them is sniffing — but even so, dogs capable of tracking down thumb drives filled with naughty images sounds pretty out there.
No, these dogs can't tell whether your USB is filled with appreciative drafts of thank you emails to your great-aunt or something far more sinister. But if they're trained right, they can tell if you're trying to hide a USB stick from the cops inside your shoe. And police know that an electronic that's been hastily hidden during a search is generally a sketchy one, so whatever the dogs turn up, they can check out.
As the Providence Journal reports, the Connecticut State Police gave its golden Labrador Thoreau to the Rhode Island State Police to assist in child pornography arrests after training the dog to detect electronics using a similar method its K-9 training team uses to teach them to sniff explosives. Thoreau is capable of locating a hard drive from within a Ziploc bag from within a desk drawer.
Gizmodo talked to Connecticut State Police spokesman Lt. Vance about the force's newest kind of K-9. "We in Connecticut have developed many specialized dogs in our repertoire," he said. "The latest is sniffing out of electronic components, but we have arson dogs, bomb dogs, narcotics dogs, cadaver dogs, all individually developed."
"The training is very similar, imprinting the dog to identify the odor," he said. "They're food rewards dogs, so when they're successful they eat."
Vance wasn't sure exactly what components within electronic devices the dogs have been imprinted to sniff, but he noted that they could distinguish between a television and a hard drive, but not an iPad or computer and a hard drive. Because the dogs aren't able to tell the difference between one small electronic from another, they're deployed over small areas of space, and police officers handling them do not carry any electronics on their person. So someone instructing a electronic-sniffing dog needs to leave their iPhone in the police car.
This isn't the first time dogs have been taught by officials to sniff for electronics; back in 2009, the K-9 unit in the New Jersey Department of Corrections started sniffing for cell phones among inmates using the same imprinting method the anti-child-porn dogs are using now. But this latest foray into electronics hunting could bring the practice to the mainstream, and make it a lot easier for police to detect hidden iPhones and stashed-away hard drives. [Providence Journal]
Image via Kelly Sikkema/Creative Commons