It’s common for police departments to have a K-9 unit of dogs specially trained to sniff out crime. Depending on their specialty, these dogs can locate missing people and animals, drugs, cash, escaped suspects, and weapons, including homemade explosives used recently in “lone wolf” attacks.
But few have the unique skill of the newest K-9 at the Weber County Sheriff’s Office in Utah.
URL (pronounced “Earl”), a Labrador Retriever puppy, is able to locate electronic devices (e.g., cell phones, flash drives) that may hold child pornography or other incriminating evidence.
Nicknamed “smut mutt” and “porn dog,” URL and his partner, Detective Cameron Hartman, are the only team of their kind in the Rocky Mountain region, CNN reports.
Other dogs stationed around the United States have proven to be successful in this field. Last spring, the FBI debuted Iris, a Labrador Retriever trained to detect such devices through a program by the Connecticut State Police.
And in 2015, another Labrador Retriever named Bear was instrumental in helping charge former Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle with child pornography, among other offenses, and prior to that, former USA gymnastics coach Marvin Sharp with multiple counts of child molestation and sexual misconduct with a minor.
URL and Bear were both trained by Todd Jordan of Jordan Detection K9 in Indiana, who teaches his canine charges to detect a common chemical in the circuitry of media devices. “It’s just like any other training, like with the narcotics or explosives or anything,” he says. “You get the dog used to the odor and reward them as they indicate on it. (Click here to see a video of Jordan explaining his training process.)
A dog’s nose has more than two million smell receptors, compared with the five million humans have. This makes it possible for them to detect a scent from a distance, even when its source is locked in a safe (like in Sharp’s home, where Bear found evidence in an airtight gun safe), buried underground, or covered with other heavy scents, like coffee. “[URL] actually found a USB that was in this jar that was closed, and the jar was in a box, and the box had stuff in it,” Hartman told CNN.
Training to detect electronic devices is becoming more in demand with the growing popularity of advanced technological devices, like iPhones and iPads, that can conceal evidence. Also, devices that can hold large amounts of memory are decreasing in size, making them easier to hide. But this type of training goes back as far as 2006, when two Labs named Lucky and Flo were trained to work for the Motion Picture Association of America, sniffing out pirated DVDs. Although they were not able to tell if the discs were pirated or legally made, the two dogs were very successful at finding large amounts of hidden DVDs in luggage, storage centers, and more. In fact, they were so successful that Malaysian pirates put a bounty on their heads.
See URL in action here: