K-9 detective will put a tail on child porn
Who’s a good girl? Charlie’s a good girl. And she’s good at her job as the newest K-9 member of the Delaware County Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, where she helps ferret out hidden electronics suspected of containing child pornography.
“Charlie is the first and only ICAC electronic-detection canine in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Homeland Security Special Agent-in-Charge Marlon Miller during an unveiling of the 2-yearold Labrador retriever to the press Wednesday.
“She has game-changing capabilities,” Miller continued. “Charlie can find a variety of small electronics including hard drives, micro-SD cards, smart phones, tablets and laptops. As technology advances, devices become smaller and smaller, and criminals are better able to hide the elements of their crimes.”
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said that is where Charlie and her handler, ICAC forensic analyst Nat Evans, come into play.
“When our investigators go to the scene of a search warrant, somebody’s house, it is very difficult to find these items under floor boards, under carpets, in closets, actually in the top pocket of somebody’s coat jacket that is in the closet, and searching these particular areas, as you may imagine, (is) particularly tedious,” said Whelan.
Evans explained that everything on Earth has a particular scent, including certain chemicals used in the manufacture of electronic equipment. Charlie is one of only about a dozen dogs in the country trained to identify those specific odors, said Whelan.
Evans said Charlie has gone out on five searches to date, but is capable of multiple searches a day with rest in between. She is usually brought in after investigators have already completed a search to ensure nothing hidden was missed. Charlie doesn’t always hit on a specific item when she is on to a scent, but might concentrate in an area that Evans will then direct detectives to go over again.
In one case, Charlie hit on a computer tower hidden inside a closet under a pile of clothes that otherwise
would not have been found, said Evans. In another, she hit on a computer bag that had already been found and had the computer removed, but still had a scent attached.
“In training, she located a micro-SD card that was under a carpet,” said Evans.
Charlie displayed her unique talent Wednesday by locating a thumb drive hidden in one of three satchels on the stage of the county council meeting room to a round of applause from those in attendance. She is also capable of detecting chemicals used in the production of physical media, such as DVDs.
Charlie underwent four weeks of training with her
initial trainer, Gerald Azzi of Delaware County, Ohio, and an additional two weeks with Evans, primarily so he could “read” what she is relaying when she’s on a search.
Evans said the handler tries to select dogs with a very high play drive. In Charlie’s case, she will sit when she hits on something and receives a tennis ball to play with as a reward.
“Each year, countless children around the word fall prey to sexual predators,” said Miller. “These young victims are left with permanent psychological, physical and emotional scars. When a recording of that sexual abuse is made and released to the Internet,
it lives on forever.”
Whelan said child pornography is a “plague” that only appears to be getting worse. While his office received slightly more than 3,000 tips on suspected child pornography from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2016, there were 2,700 such tips in the first six months of 2017 alone.
“So this unit, needless to say, is extremely busy and we are constantly investigating those predators trying to victimize our children, not only here in Delaware County, but in Pennsylvania,” Whelan said.
As one of only a handful of dogs trained in her particular area of expertise,
Whelan said Charlie might be called upon to go to other parts of Pennsylvania or even other states to assist those law enforcement agencies from time to time.
The largest cost of the newest ICAC member was Charlie herself, at $9,500, said Whelan. Training cost another $1,100. The federal Department of Homeland Security picked up the entire tab, Whelan said.
When she isn’t actively working, Charlie is with Evans at the Criminal Investigation Division headquarters in Media or at home with his family. Evans said the dog is a family pet at home, like any other, and only works when he gives her a specific command. His daughter is also in love with Charlie and requires a kiss from her each night before going to bed, he said.
Evans, who has been with ICAC for eight years, said his new partner has been a welcome change of pace from his usual duties.
“I have a pet at home, I have a buddy that goes with me to and from work, for anybody that loves animals, it’s great,” he said. “My wife is a big animal lover, so it worked out great. Plus, I’ve been looking at child pornography since 2009 and it’s a nice break to not have to do that all day. It’s therapeutic, I guess you could say, having a dog. Everybody loves dogs. Dogs are great.”
Meet Charlie, the newest member of the Delco District Attorney’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Charlie can detect hidden computer elements and will be used in the battle on child porn.