New jobs for police dogs

-          Dogs have long searched for cadavers, drugs, explosives and accelerants


-          Now, they track bank notes, DVDs and mobile devices

Canine bomb detectives are a booming industry. For that purpose alone, the security firm Securitas currently has 27 specialized teams that use the expertise of 54 specially trained bomb-sniffing dogs. The company, we learned Thursday, works with the Liège airport and its subsidiary Liège Airport Security, to create an infrastructure within the airport’s perimeter that is exclusively dedicated to the training of these dogs. The Liège airport will be the first – but not the only – beneficiary of this collaboration, which the partners hope will be the beginnings of a true referral center for training bomb-sniffing dogs.


The dogs trained by Securitas are able to detect even minute quantities of explosives. A dog is, first of all, a nose. In fact a smeller. Its world is a universe of odors that it can decode. Dogs are well equipped. In German Shepherds the surface area of the mucous membrane responsible for the sense of smell is 17 times greater than that of humans. In Labrador Retrievers it is 20 times greater. The same holds true for the area of the brain devoted to processing olfactory information. This area occupies 10% of a dog’s brain (compared to 0.1% for humans), and the neurons involved in olfaction are 40 times more numerous in dogs than in human beings.


Police around the world learned long ago how to ensure the performance of that schnoz. The federal police canine support service (1) which was created in 1968 has been based since 2004 in Neerhespen (Flemish Brabant). It has forty teams trained in a variety of specialties: tracking dogs, dogs specially trained in finding drugs, explosives and munitions, fires and human remains…


These are just the dogs’ entry-level jobs. Here, as elsewhere, dogs are being trained for new specialties. Three of them are already experienced in searching out bank notes. At Neerhespen, there is also interest in developing odorology as a criminological technique for forensic identification.


This technique started in Hungary where it is considered forensic proof, then it spread to other Eastern European countries during the 70s. The French police have been using it for ten years. There the results are convincing. For the 307 cases in which odorology was used, 117 positive identifications were made – a remarkable identification rate of 38%. In France this method is used by investigative units outside the judicial process as a complement to other identification techniques.


The technique consists of trapping traces of odors left by a suspect at the scene of the crime using strips of a special cloth. The cloths, sealed in sterile containers, are kept in a data bank (an “odor library”) where the odor’s imprint can remain intact as long as ten years according to disputed estimates. At any time these cloths, permeated with the odor, can be put to the test by specialized dogs. These dogs are trained to react if the odor previously trapped at the scene of a crime corresponds to that of the suspect who is under arrest.


Truly, this kind of performance and their overall intelligence make dogs into assistants that can be assigned to the most varied tasks in which there is an odor that they can discern.


The American film company MPAA has used dogs trained to find counterfeit DVDs since 2006. These DVDs are often trafficked as contraband by criminal networks involved in piracy on a global scale.


In many European countries odorology has become a forensic identification technique


In the United States dogs are used to track mobile devices in prisons. Traffic in mobile phones is one of the most profitable in the prison underground economy. Miniaturization of mobile devices makes them more and more difficult to detect during a search. Dogs, trained to detect the gases emitted by batteries, alert at the odor. During a pilot project conducted between July 2009 and June 2010 in New Jersey, the use of dogs led to the confiscation of 331 cell phones; twice as many as the previous year. Since then nine dogs travel constantly between the state’s prisons.




(1) This weekend, Le Soir will devote a complete report to the canine support service of the federal police.

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