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Roger that! Labrador retriever sniffs out unique crimes — involving electronic devices

·3 min read
A student in Melissa Keown's forensics class pets Roger, an electronic evidence detection dog. April 22, 2022
A student in Melissa Keown's forensics class pets Roger, an electronic evidence detection dog. April 22, 2022

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Roger, a 18-month-old yellow Labrador retriever, is helping solve crimes in a unique way, by sniffing out electronic devices.

Roger's partner and owner, digital forensic analyst Courtney Russell, explained how and why Roger does his important job.

"Roger's (an) ESD K9," Russell said. "It's an electronic storage detection K9... So, his main purpose is to find the electronic storage devices for various kinds of cases. Mostly child exploitation (cases) that we work on. But he can be used in literally any other case as long as it involves having to find a storage device."

Russell further explained that electronic storage devices are any devices that can store data. SIM cards, SD cards, USB devices, hard drives and cell phones were a few of the provide examples. Roger sniffs out the devices based on a specific chemical.

"(The chemical Roger smells) is called TPPO," Russell said. "...It's used in the manufacturing process of the storage devices. So it's automatically put in there in the factories, and then that's what he's smelling for."

Dogs such as Roger who have been trained to detect TPPO are fairly new in the industry, much newer than other dogs who detect bombs or drugs.

Roger, an 18 month old yellow lab who has been trained as an electronic storage detection K9 unit. April 22, 2022
Roger, an 18 month old yellow lab who has been trained as an electronic storage detection K9 unit. April 22, 2022

"It's fairly new," Russell said. "...(Roger) is number 66 (TPPO-detecting dog) in the country. So, it's not been so long. I think the very first dog, Bear, was used in Jared Fogle's (2015) case."

Fogle was the well-known spokesperson featured in Subway's advertising campaigns before an FBI investigation led to convictions in 2015 of child pornography.

While child exploitation cases are primarily what Roger and dogs like him have worked on, his skills can be used in other criminal cases.

"For example," Russell said, "ISP (Indiana State Police) had a murderer where the suspect ran and threw his phone. So, I mean, it wasn't an electronic case, but they couldn't find the phone, so they brought the dog in to try and find it in the middle of the woods at night. They were able to find it."

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Indiana police are not the only ones who benefit from Roger's findings, as Patrick Harrington, Tippecanoe County prosecutor, explained.

"Roger works for our high-tech crime unit," Harrington said. "It's part of the prosecutor's office...we're one of four in the state to have a K9 (unit)… So we're very fortunate to have Roger as a resource to help us."

Russell demonstrated last Friday how Roger works at crime scenes inside of Melissa Keown's Harrison High School classroom. Keown is a science teacher whose curriculum includes a forensics class.

Courtney Russell demonstrating Roger's evidence detection skills. April 22, 2022
Courtney Russell demonstrating Roger's evidence detection skills. April 22, 2022

Russell will "target" areas for Roger to seek, using food as a major motivator. Once found, Roger will gesture to the electronic device with his nose or by jumping towards it. Once identified, Roger is rewarded with food.

"I have to feed him over top of the device so he links the eating with the smell of that (device)," Russel said. "...You'll see when it's higher up, he'll jump up and kind of show me where it's at, which makes it a lot easier for me to find it."

Roger will serve as an ESD K9 for around five years, as his health allows, before retiring. Once retired, however, he will continue to live with Russell for the remainder of his life.

Margaret Christopherson is a reporter for the Journal & Courier. Email her at mchristopherson@jconline.com and follow her on Twitter @MargaretJC2.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Indiana dog sniffs out unique crimes — involving electronic devices