PENSACOLA, Fla. (SBG) — Dogs have an amazing sense of smell. They are used in law enforcement, fire investigations, and natural disasters to detect drugs, explosives, and human remains. Now, these sensitive noses are being used to combat child sex crimes.
This fall, during a training session in Florida, Inside Your World Investigates got to meet Chewie, one of the country's most highly trained dogs.
He works on the front lines in the fight to track down child sex predators. Inside Your World watched as Chewie was led into a room to sniff out hidden electronic devices, beneath couch cushions, inside drawers, and under furniture.
What he detects, can stop some of the most heinous criminals.
Electronic storage detection dogs are a new weapon in the fight against child sex crimes, and at the center of the effort is Todd Jordan, founder of Jordan Detection K-9. A career firefighter, Jordan began training dogs to detect accelerants in fire investigations 25 years ago. Now, he teaches dogs to sniff out electronics.
There's a chemical compound that's within the manufacturing process of the device and the dogs are trained to indicate on that chemical," Jordan said.
The dogs will sit when they come upon the odor, then, when instructed to show, they can point to the location of the device.
In the digital age, predators who consume child pornography often watch it on removable electronic storage devices to avoid detection. Even the smallest of these devices can hold up to a thousand hours of video, which can be critical evidence to bring these criminals to justice. But thumb drives and micro-SD cards are virtually impossible to find in a hand search.
A microSD can hold a terabyte of information, which could be hundreds of thousands of images," Jordan said. "And if you think about each image of a child is a victim, and so that’s why we do it."
But a highly-trained working dog can easily sniff them out.
No one can appreciate more what these elite canines do for law enforcement than Alicia Kozak. At the age of 13, Alicia thought she was going to meet a teen she had gotten to know from an internet chat room when her life changed forever.
She was abducted, driven across state lines, and chained by her neck in her abductor’s basement dungeon where she suffered unspeakable horrors.
I had to do whatever I had to do, no matter how humiliating or brutal or disgusting because I knew if I became too much trouble, that's when he was going to kill me," survivor Alicia Kozak told Inside Your World.
A tip led to her dramatic rescue after four days.
But hundreds like Alicia are targeted every year and evidence of their exploitation is often hidden away on those hard-to-find electronic devices. Now, the canines Jordan trains are sniffing them out.
Jordan's first dog, Bear, helped gather evidence in the Subway pitchman Jared Fogle underage child sex case, as well as in the investigation of USA Gymnastics coach Marvin Sharp.
For all their extraordinary promise, there are less than a hundred K-9s in America today certified to detect and locate electronics. Jordan has trained nearly 70 of them.
Their potential value to law enforcement is hard to overstate. There are as many as three crimes associated with every child pornography case — from sexual exploitation to filming the assault to possession of the video. Jordan said these dogs and their noses can help put all of those criminals behind bars.
Jordan says there’s another amazing thing about using Labradors, or what he referred to as floppy-eared dogs, for this type of work. He told us that if there are child victims or frightened family members at the scene, the dog can also serve as a comfort dog to deescalate the situation.
One of Jordan’s graduates is Kozak, named after Alicia. In just three years of working, Kozak detected nearly 400 electronic storage devices, more than 300 after investigators conducted hand searches.
It’s like I have this sidekick who’s out there fighting crime," Alicia Kozak said about her namesake, ESD dog 'Kozak.'
There is a long waiting list of agencies anxious to use these dogs to help solve other crimes that hide data in these small electronics.
Down the line, experts say ESD dogs could also be used to detect valuable digital evidence in homicide investigations, drug deals, even counterterrorism, but as a relatively new tool, requiring training and investment, they’re not universally available, something Kozak would like to see change.
"Dogs can be trained to do things that humans cannot, it's the great relationship. But we need to get them in every department," she said.
A non-profit organization, Operation Underground Rescue, has purchased nearly 40 ESD K-9s and donated them to various law enforcement agencies. The hope is that increased funding and awareness about the special skill set will put them in more places.
To meet the elite K-9s, and read more about them, click here.