The Australian Federal Police (AFP) this week revealed some of its canine squad have been trained to sniff out devices, such as USBs and SIM cards, at crime scenes or during the execution of search warrants.
In a Facebook post showing a video of one dog, Georgia, finding a phone hidden in a vacuum cleaner, the AFP said since 2019, its three AFP technology detection dogs have located more than 120 devices in support of investigations ranging from child protection investigations to counter terrorism operations.
It said over the next three years, at least 12 more labradors will be trained and deployed across the country.
"A single USB can hold hundreds of thousands of child exploitation images, or documents of crucial evidence for a police investigation," an AFP spokesperson told ZDNet. "However, with the Technology Detection Dogs, we are able to detect their presence, even when concealed."
AFP said the government is boosting funding by AU$35.4 million over four years to combat child sexual abuse and exploitation, which includes AU$5.7 million to expand the team of technology detection dogs.
"The increased funding for the tech dogs capability will greatly enhance the ability of the AFP to collect vital digital evidence, bringing to justice not only online child sex offenders, but also violent extremists and those involved in organised crime," the spokesperson said.
According to the AFP, initial training of the dog squad takes at least three months of intensive work, followed by ongoing dedicated work between the handler and the dog once they are teamed.
"These dogs are the very top tier among detection dogs, requiring specific traits such as a high drive, a high level of intelligence, endurance, and the ability to learn how to detect these devices in repetitive learning," the spokesperson said. "The other critical element to this capability is, of course, the handler selection to pair with the dogs.
"This is a highly technical capability and requires an experienced handler to work with the dogs and use them effectively."
Each dog can expect to work for around six years in the field, before enjoying a well-deserved retirement with their handler or a volunteer family.
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