Police employ hard drive-detecting dogs to catch criminals

Tweed and Rob have been trained to detect digital storage devices, including USB sticks, SD cards and hard drives, by local police forces.

Devon and Cornwall Police and Dorset Police have been using their canine companions to identify criminals not just in the area, but across the UK.

Chief Superintendent Jim Nye of Devon and Cornwall Police, said: “This is an historic step for policing in the UK. These dogs will give the police a new way to fight the threat of terrorism, paedophiles and fraudsters."

“Tweed and Rob have been used by police at crime scenes and executions of warrants, not just within Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, but across the whole UK. The dogs have been used to sniff out data devices such as mobile devices, USB sticks, SD cards, hard drives and computers."

“Once again, we have shown that we are prepared to look at new technology and will always strive to get one step ahead to tackle criminality.”

The force launched a pilot scheme last year, after police dog instructor PC Graham Attwood discovered the first digital storage detection dogs were trained by the Connecticut State Police Department.

“Myself and members of the alliance dog school initially handled and trained Tweed and Rob, mainly in our own time, as we were committed to our usual daily duties of training the force’s other operational police dogs," said PC Attwood.

“The majority of the dogs we have in the force either come from our puppy breeding scheme or are gift or rescue dogs, but this was a unique challenge for us so we identified and purchased Tweed and Rob last December when they were around 15 months old, and embarked on this journey with them.”

Mike Real, a retired Connecticut police officer who co-founded the training programme, and Special Agent Jeffrey Calandra, who is the only digital detection dog handler in the FBI, were invited to Devon for a week to train with and assess Tweed, a 19-month-old springer spaniel, and Rob, a 20-month-old black Labrador.

Calandra said: “In today’s tech-driven world, crime has no state or even country boundaries, so helping our law-enforcement partners around the world develop cutting edge detection capabilities is key to fighting crime and terror.”

Pc Attwood added: “Our digital dogs have already proven to be a success and have been used in over 50 warrants executed across the UK, including Hampshire, Essex, South Wales, and North Yorkshire."

“We have already seen some really fantastic results from these two dogs. Tweed on one warrant indicated that something may have been within what looked like a coke can. This was then inspected by a search officer and discovered that it was actually a money box which had a number of SD cards hidden within it."

“Rob has also indicated a small device hidden carefully in a drawer which would have likely been missed by the human eye, which just goes to show that they are able to locate these items which assists us greatly with our searches.”

Rob and Tweed are working part of a trial; the force will assess the success of these dogs and their new skills at the end of the 2017 with a view to rolling it out beyond the area.

The dogs live at home with their new full-time handlers: PC Martin King and PC Jill Curnow.

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