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In The Digital Age, Connecticut State Police K-9 Unit Trains Edogs


Police dogs are great at sniffing out hidden drugs. And as more crime goes digital, state police in Connecticut are training their K-9s to sniff out evidence on computers and cellphones. Here's Patrick Skahill of member station WNPR.

PATRICK SKAHILL, BYLINE: Somewhere, stashed behind a long wooden wall in a dark gymnasium packed with old suitcases, is a hidden computer memory card. It's the kind of tiny chip you'd slip into a cellphone or a digital camera. And Selma is determined to find it.

GEORGE JUPIN: Good girl.

SKAHILL: That's Detective George Jupin with the Connecticut State Police Computer Crimes Unit. Selma's a trim black lab with a nose trained to sniff out technology - things like hard drives...

JUPIN: Cellphones, mobile devices, such as tablets, and more importantly, devices such as USB drives or SD cards.

SKAHILL: After picking up the scent, Selma zips over to one corner of the gym and puts her paws up on the wall.

JUPIN: Show me. Show me better. Good girl.

SKAHILL: She's just training today. But Jupin says Selma goes out about twice a week to execute search warrants. One time, he says police already searched a house. But when they brought in Selma, she hit on a drawer human officers overlooked. Shoved in the back was a digital camera, and it was filled with pictures indicating a child pornography suspect was doing more than just looking.

JUPIN: You don't have enough time to look at everything. But with the K-9, it definitely makes you feel that you've done a more thorough investigation. Getting into all those nooks and crannies of a house, particularly when the houses are, you know, large or they're packed with a lot of stuff - it's helpful.

SKAHILL: Selma was Connecticut's first e-dog. Since then, state police taught six other labradors to find hidden hardware. Those dogs are serving at police departments across the country and at the FBI.

Trooper First Class Michael Real trains the dogs. Originally, he says they were bred to assist the blind, but they washed out of guide dog school because of high energy and an obsession with food, bad traits for a seeing-eye dog but ideal for a K-9 in training.

MICHAEL REAL: We take these dogs particularly because they have great food drive. And that's how they eat every day from the time we get them. It's - odor equates to food.

SKAHILL: Selma gets her dinner when she finds a chemical compound surrounding the memory boards of all cellphones and computers. It's put there to help keep the hardware cool. Real says it took about a year to train Selma to find the compound on actual hardware.

Today, she can find hidden DVDs and Blu-ray discs, too. Real says the e-dogs are even alerting to vintage tech, like stashed away floppy disks or VHS tapes.

REAL: They constantly amaze you with their ability to identify something similar to what they've been trained on. It kind of leads us down the path of where we should be - you know, the other things we should be training them on.

SKAHILL: Detective George Jupin says he's already getting calls for Selma to assist in homicide and fraud investigations. And while bomb-sniffing dogs are already a thing, Jupin says the next step for Selma might be bomb reconstruction, using her nose at a blast site to sniff out the scattered components of a computerized detonator. For NPR News, I'm Patrick Skahill in Hartford. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Patrick Skahill