GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – Due to an increase in cyber crimes involving children, the Wisconsin Department of Justice would like to have dogs specially trained to find evidence hidden by child predators.
Dogs can sniff for bombs, uncover hidden drugs, and track suspects on the run. Trainers have discovered they can trace another scent.
“A compound has been isolated that’s used in the manufacture of electronic devices, so hard drives and related components, and this compound has a unique scent or odor,” says Matt Joy, Director of Internet Crimes Against Children/Human Trafficking and Wisconsin ICAC Commander.
Digital detecting dogs are specially trained to find devices like computers, phones iPods, or flash drives.
“These can be secreted, especially thumb drives, SD cards, micro-SD cards,” Joy says. “We’re talking very, very small, sometimes smaller than a quarter.”
The tiny devices can hold tens of thousands of images. Those images become evidence in cases of child enticement, child pornography, or other internet crimes against children.
Those cases are becoming more common statewide.
The Wisconsin Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force tells Target 2 it received more than 1,600 cyber tips last year alone, resulting in nearly that many investigations.
Joy says the electronic devices used in those cases are easily hidden under tables, in ceilings or in drawers. That poses a challenge to investigators who are searching homes.
“We, in law enforcement, know that we miss things, and so to have a helping hand, or paw, in this case, is very good,” Joy says.
The digital detecting dogs are a new concept to law enforcement in the last two-to-three years. There are only a handful around the country, mostly in the Northeast and Northwest.
The dogs that are already trained have proven critical in some high profile cases.
That includes the 2016 search of an Indiana home belonging to former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle. Fogle was convicted for possession of child pornography.
The Wisconsin DOJ is intrigued by the success of these dogs.
“We’re exploring it and thinking about it, and so I think it’s a helpful tool,” Joy says.
One dog, along with training, costs roughly $10,000, plus expenses for continued care.
Target 2 found the ICAC division of the Department of Justice is set to receive $1.5 million over two years to fund overtime and training under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal.
Whether or not that includes a dog remains unclear.
Joy says the agency is still researching the program nationally and would require input from the Fiscal Bureau and legislative liaison to pay for a K9.
Joy says the dogs would be useful in ICAC cases, and that would not be the limit
“Most all crimes now have a digital component,” Joy says. “People use phones in furtherance of their crimes. So, often times there is potential for evidence to be located on devices in any sort of an investigation.”
Due to the high number of cases investigated each year, Joy says they would have to pick and choose when they’d use the dogs, depending on the severity of the crime or the inability for people to conduct a search.