What is an Electronic Detection Dog?

June 6, 2022 Criminal Defense

Canine Units have been used by the police around the world for over a hundred years. Dog training has come a long way since the 1880s when bloodhounds were used to find Jack the Ripper.  In recent years, man’s best friend has been trained to sniff out the smallest of electronics to help the police find evidence of crimes.

In this blog, we will be going over what an electronic sniffing dog is, how they operate and why this matters to you.

What Can Electronic Sniffing Dogs Detect?

Dogs that undergo electronic storage detection training can sniff out the chemical compounds found in electronics. Everything from small SDs cards to your cellphones has these chemical compounds. These dogs are trained to detect even the smallest of electronics such as microSD cards. The dogs are able to detect electronics of all shapes and sizes because all electronics have a circuit board.

All electronics use a compound called triphenylphosphine oxide  (TPPO), which covers the circuit boards in electronics to prevent overheating. Another common compound is hydroxycyclohexyl phenyl ketone (HPK), which can be found in CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and floppy disks. Electronic sniffing dogs are trained to detect these chemical compounds, then alert their handlers to these compounds.

Many crimes today have a cyber component to them. Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Special Agent Ritchie Kaplan stated on June 2, 2022, “over the last two decades, I have seen an evolution in the techniques criminals use to hide evidence. From hollowed-out items to false floor boards, inventive schemes to conceal evidence are constantly used.” Kaplan stated that the K-9 electronic storage detection has been effective in finding evidence that criminals are trying to hide in electronic devices.

FDLE has only just recently begun using electronic sniffing dogs. Rocket, Tallahassee’s first electronic sniffing dog, first day on the job was November 15, 2021. Rockets handler, Special Agent Aida Limongi said, “He did his job, and I was able to catch his cues on stuff that he had alerted on that I might have walked by had he not been there.”

Kissimmee’s K9 unit Baxter helped his handler, Officer Georgie Torres, find a hard drive containing child porn when conducting a search warrant on a home. Torres said, “the garage was pretty packed, and he indicated on a box and when we opened that box there was a hard drive. . . It would have taken days to search those boxes.”

These electronic sniffing dogs have been used now throughout the county. In New Jersey, FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Calandra found a MicroSD card because his K9-unit Iris alerted multiple times to the presence of the device. At first, Calandra was unsure that Iris was properly alerting to the electronic device. Iris had alerted Calandra that there was something on the top of a desk drawer. Calandra ordered the dog, “show me.” Iris put her nose on a pad of sticky notes. Calandra thought that his dog was giving him a false alert, but when he pulled the dog away she pulled him back to the desk. Iris picked up the sticky note pad and turned it over, when she did that a microSD card fell out.

What Are the Issues With Using Electronic Sniffing Dogs?

Due to the recency of the new training, it is hard to judge how accurate the dogs are in alerting to the presence of electronic devices. Detective Ian Polhemus of the Seattle Police Department claims that 25% of the time, his dog found an item that the human search team would have missed.

The issue with drug-sniffing dogs is well known. Drug-sniffing dogs are only accurate about 44% of the time. This means that a drug-sniffing dog can alert to the presence of drugs in a person or a car, and subject that person to an unreasonable search. Most of the issues surrounding drug-sniffing dogs occur at traffic stops.

In the context of a traffic stop, the Supreme Court ruled that the purpose of a traffic stop is to address the infraction that the police pulled over the individual for. Therefore, if the police cause the stop to last longer than is reasonably necessary, then the fourth amendment is violated. In Rodriguez v US, Rodriguez was pulled over on the highway, and the police officer issued a ticket to him. However, after issuing the ticket, the police officer asked the defendant if he could walk his K-9 unit around the car. Rodriguez refused to consent to the search and the police officer detained Mr. Rodriguez to have the K-9 unit walk around the car. The K-9 unit alerted to drugs, and Mr. Rodriguez was charged with possession of methamphetamine. The Supreme Court ruled that the police officer violated Mr. Rodriguez’s fourth amendment rights by prolonging the traffic stop to have the K-9 unit walk around the car. The Court ruled that police officers cannot prolong a stop to conduct a K-9 unit walk around.

 Generally, when you are pulled over, a police officer needs your permission to search your car, but if they have probable cause to search your car then they don’t need your consent. The police are not supposed to prolong a traffic stop to have their dog sniff your car. If a K-9 unit alerts to the presence of drugs in your car, then the police officer has probable cause to search your car.  Read more about the issues with K-9 drug dogs here.

However, electronic sniffing dogs seem to be used after a search warrant has already been obtained for a location, where drug-sniffing dogs may be used unreasonably to lengthen a traffic stop.  This means that a lot of the issues with drug-sniffing dogs might not be a problem for electronic sniffing dogs since the warrant has been obtained. However, there may be issues with the search warrant which is why it’s important to hire a skilled criminal defense attorney.

In Florida, a search warrant may only be issued if there is probable cause to search the area. This means that there is a reasonable belief that evidence is at a specific location. Search warrants have to be specific. The police cannot just show up at your house looking for anything and everything. The warrant has to be specific, the warrant has to describe the place being searched and the items to be seized. For example, if the police obtain a search warrant for drugs, then they are looking for drugs, not SD cards. If the police take items not specified on the search warrant, then the police may have conducted an unreasonable search and the evidence may be suppressed at trial. To learn more about search warrants read our blog here.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

K9 units are not always accurate and the police do not always follow search warrants. If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime, it’s important to hire a skilled criminal defense attorney to help you fight for your freedom, and ensure that your constitutional rights are protected. The attorneys at Pumphrey Law have decades of experience defending various crimes across the state. Call us today at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message for a free consult today.

Written by Melissa MacNicol

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