There is a new breed of CSI technicians working with the police, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies around the country. While they don’t have their own TV series yet, they are fast making their mark and giving a new meaning to the acronym CSI namely, canine scene investigators.
“ There’s no question about it,” says Sergeant Mike Goosby, head canine trainer for the Los Angeles Police Department. “Canines are playing an enormous and very important role as crime scene investigators on a daily basis around the country. They are great detection tools and they are making the job a lot easier for their human counterparts and save precious time and man-hours along the way.
“We recently had an officer-involved shooting where the officer was killed and the suspect fled the scene. One of our canine scene investigators named Abjo found him six blocks away from the scene of the crime within two hours. It would have taken a team of policemen at least eight to ten hours to do the same task.
It’s well-established fact; the canine nose knows. According to a table published in Understanding Your Dog For Dummies by authors Stanley Coren PhD and Sarah Hodgson, humans have about 5 million olfactory sensory cells while dogs, depending on their breed, have between 125 million (Dachshunds) and 300 million (Bloodhounds).
Thus canine scene investigators are capable of making a fine distinction between scents. They can get a “scent picture” of one scent even when other scents are present. It’s been said that when a dog walks into a bakery, he doesn’t smell cake; instead he can isolate the smell of the flour, eggs, butter, the flavoring and all the other listed ingredients.
Canine scene investigators are either trained to be air-scenting dogs or trailing dogs. Air-scenting dogs are trained to find any human scent. They work off-leash and can trace a human scent without the aid of an article that was worn or handled by the perpetrator they are looking for. While trailing dogs are “scent specific”. They are given a scented article, typically an item of clothing recently worn by the subject, and then they get to work tracking that scent to the subject’s location.
Like many police department, the LAPD has three groups of specialist canine investigators trained for specific disciplines and works primarily with four dog breeds
“We use German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherds to search for outstanding suspects,” explains Goosby. “The same three breeds (but different actual dogs) are trained specifically to search for outstanding weapons. And, when it comes to looking for lost or missing people, and, or evidence, we only use Bloodhounds as they are renowned for their tracking or trailing detection skills.”
“And now we are considering introducing Labrador Retrievers to the line-up to search for both suspects and weapons,” added Goosby.
Labrador retrievers are popular CSI dogs in other parts of the world. In Naples, Italy, a two-year-old Golden Labrador named Stella is gaining a reputation as a money sniffer. She works at the international airport preventing large amounts of cash from being smuggled out of the country. She got worldwide attention when she stopped a tax evader from leaving the country with 3 million Euros in illicit cash. (My keyboard doesn’t have a Euro sign.)
There are other dog breeds that could work well as crime scene investigators. The Department of Agriculture has great success with their Beagle Brigade ubiquitous at many airports across the country. These hounds average around 75,000 seizures of prohibited agricultural products such unauthorized meat, animal byproducts, fruit and vegetables a year.
“But they are small and cute,” says Goosby. “The breeds we use for crime scene investigations are chosen for their size, stature and strength to overpower a suspect and, at the same time, look menacing to in the eyes of the bad guys.”
All the dogs trained for this special work are purebreds and carefully chosen for the breed traits and characteristics. Further, all the German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherds working as CSIs are born and trained in Europe, then brought to America where they receive further training from trainers like Goosby to perfect their skills in the field.
“The reason for importing dogs is that the breeding programs in Europe are very different to the breeding criteria used here in the United States,” explains Goosby.
“They breed for more working qualities, where American breeders breed for show quality. Also, in Europe, there is a huge interest in the canine sports world and the dogs are raised to perform well in various sporting activities and these traits make the dogs excel in crime detection work. Further, sporting dogs tend to be social and comfortable being around lots of people, which is essential for the work they are trained to do here.”
When not in the field, another role that canines are playing is in scent line-ups. Instead of the typical scene of a group of men or women lined up to be indentified by someone on the other side of one-way glass, technicians will line-up between five to seven canisters containing different scents and a dog will then be called in to make an scent identification which links back to a particular suspect.
“Scent lineups have been used in European countries since the beginning of the 20th century and are a common part of police practice in the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Russia, and other Eastern European Countries,” says John Ensminger a New York based attorney and a member of the bars of the State of New York and the United States Supreme Court and a Contributing Editor at the Animal Legal and Historical Center of the Michigan State University College of Law.
These scent line-ups are based on a science called odor biometrics, based on the premise that all individuals have a distinctive odor.
Ensminger has written extensively about scent line-ups in his latest book
Police and Military Dogs: Criminal Detection, Forensic Evidence and Judicial Admissibility, published by Taylor & Francis/CRC Press, New York and London and also on his blog Dog Law Reporter. (http://doglawreporter.blogspot.com).
“Unfortunately, a number of law enforcement officers who perform such lineups have not been doing so to adequate standards, and the result has been that some courts have become suspicious,” says Ensminger.
“Further, organizations such as Project Innocence a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals in Texas are calling it a ‘junk science’,” as on occasion a two different scent line-ups have produced different results. Nevertheless, I believe that scent lineups are a significant forensic and evidentiary tool and at best should be part of the investigative process. I believe if executed properly, and the procedures can be made sufficiently rigorous, the results can be admissible in court.”
In fact the work of CSI dogs has been brought before the Supreme Court, as the reliability of two now retired drug-sniffing dogs named Franky and Aldo is also being questioned in two cases in Florida. The Justices are set to rule sometime in 2013.
While the Los Angeles Police department currently does not conduct scent line-ups, the department’s canine investigators have a high success rate out in the field.
“One of my favorites stories and one that got a lot of media attention was the capturing of the Melrose Bandit who was robbing tourists at gun point in the Hollywood area a few years back,” recalls Goosby. “ The robber had notched up nearly 25 crimes by the time one of his victims was able to alert a policeman who happened to be in the area. The suspect ran and along the way discarded his weapon.
“So we used a canine to do an article search and the dog located the gun. We were able to get fingerprints off it, which ultimately led to the suspect’s arrest.
“There’s no question that dogs play an integral part in our investigations. Of course they don’t actually solve the crime. But we let them think that they do by rewarding them with lots of extra love and attention.”