Police dogs are now being trained to hunt out electronic devices that could provide key evidence in criminal cases.
Sota, a black Labrador belonging to Minnesota law enforcement, is the result of such training. According to local publication the Star Tribune, Sota is able to sniff out small electronics -- including smartphones, USB drives, and microSD cards -- that may contain key evidence in sexual abuse and child predation cases, as well as white-collar crimes.
Two-year-old K-9 Sota made her debut this week with a public introduction organized by the state's Department of Public Safety (DPS).
So-called electronic storage detection (ESD) dogs are able to recognize a particular chemical commonly found on coatings applied to small electronics called triphenylphosphine oxide (TPPO).
Labradors are touted as a suitable breed for such work, considering how food-motivated they generally are. According to GT, labs will smell TPPO during training before they are fed, learning to associate TPPO with food -- until they actively go on the hunt for the chemical in order to be rewarded.
The DPS says that while she is the first police dog in Minnesota focused primarily on sniffing out electronics, Sota also highlights an emerging trend in training.
Rather than training dogs to focus on weapons and drugs, law enforcement has moved from a count of three electronic sniffer dogs across the United States two years ago to "three dozen" now working in the country.
ESD dogs have been trained in the United States since 2011, but it was in 2015 that Bear, an ESD-trained black labrador, showed their worth in a child pornography case by finding a hidden flash drive missed by investigators.
The discovery led to a man being found guilty of sexual abuse and the distribution of child pornography, resulting in a 15-year prison sentence and a $175,000 fine.
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