Hold your smartphone up to your nose and take a deep sniff. That’s what Pedro can smell too.
Pedro is a technology detector dog for the National Canine Operations unit of the Australian Federal Police (AFP). He and his four-legged peers are tasked with sniffing out laptops, phones, USB sticks and other electronic devices for criminal investigations in Canberra.
Senior Constable Daniel Neit is his handler. He leads Pedro around a mock bedroom at the purpose-built training facility in Majura, directing his nose through stacks of books and CDs, drawers, and even under the bed sheets. Every time Pedro makes a find, he is rewarded with a quick munch on a tennis ball, a salvo of “good boy” and pats.
“I’m working with Pedro to find these items – he’s the one with the nose, I’m the one with the brain,” Daniel says.
Daniel has been in the Technology Detection Dog (TDD) program for three years and also runs the explosive detection canine unit. He says the dogs are trained to pick up the odour from many electronic devices, whether from the batteries or the plastics.
“It’s much more hands-off in explosive detection, and there’s more independence for the dog to do its work, compared to TDD,” he says.
“We want the dogs to trust the handler, so when we point to something, we want them to know that’s potentially where the target is.”
The bedroom looks like a teenager has been through it within a few minutes, but the hunt is successful. A mobile phone and four USB sticks are lying on the table. This demonstration is quite tidy compared to what normally happens in the field.
“We turn the scene upside down,” Daniel says.
The TDD program was established in 2019 with an equally successful impact on frontline operations and investigations. These include counter-terrorism and drug searches but the majority – up to 40 per cent – are related to online sexual exploitation of children.
The keen-nosed canines have located potential evidence hidden away in the 1s and 0s of hundreds of digital devices.
There are already two technology detection dogs in each state and the ACT, but the Australian Federal Police (AFP) hosted the first ‘Technology Detection Dog Symposium’ from 12 to 13 September to help expand the program.
The event was attended by law enforcement agencies from across the country, including Australian Border Force, ACT Corrective Services, Australian Defence Force, Corrective Services NSW, National Office for Child Safety and NSW Police Force, among others.
AFP officers from the program shared training insights, success stories from recent operations around the country and valuable lessons learnt in these early days.
Superintendent Simon Henry said the symposium gave canine professionals the opportunity to work together on the next generation of crime-fighting canines.
“Tech detection dogs are an invaluable asset to law enforcement agencies and are essential in combatting crime in a modern era where critical evidence is often stored on hidden electronic devices,” Superintendent Henry said.
“These dogs are successful in improving operational outcomes, supporting AFP investigators and those from other agencies to identify potential items containing evidence at search warrants.”
Last year, under the National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse, the AFP received $5.7 million of funding for the TDD program.
This contributed to the training of eight new dogs and handlers.
Superintendent Henry said the AFP is now working hand-in-glove with law enforcement agencies across the country to bolster capability and “stay one step ahead of criminals”.