Delaware County cops hope this 2-year-old can help sniff out child porn

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Charlie, 2, is a Labrador retriever trained to sniff out electric devices that may contain child porn.

Charlie, a 2-year-old female Labrador retriever, was panting and pulling at her leash Wednesday morning at the Delaware County Courthouse, her tail wagging, the word POLICE emblazoned across her vest.

She was making her public debut as an “electronic-detection forensic K-9.” The first of her kind in Pennsylvania and one of fewer than two dozen nationwide, Charlie will be deployed with the Internet Crimes Against Children Pennsylvania Task Force, tasked with sniffing out small hidden electronics, from CD-ROMs to flash drives, in suspected predators’ homes.

From there, analysts will determine if child pornography is present.

In a demonstration after the news conference, Charlie sniffed past three drawstring bags and sat upright behind the one that contained a micro SD card. She was rewarded with her favorite tennis ball, which she readily accepted.

“The trainer told me he looks for dogs that have a very high play drive,” said Nat Evans, a forensic analyst with the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division and Charlie’s handler, “meaning they want to go out, they want to play, they want to find — you know, her incentive is, ‘I find the smell, I get my toy.’ ”

Training took place over four weeks in Delaware County, Ohio, with Azzi International Service for Dogs. The dogs are trained to detect a specific chemical found in all electronics.

The mock detection was not Charlie’s first time exercising her talents. In a recent bust, the K-9 tipped investigators to a bed under which a suspect’s computer bag was found. The accompanying computer was located separately.

The Department of Homeland Security paid to pair Charlie with the task force — $9,500 for the K-9 and $1,100 for her training.

The task force has been working since 2000, and has expanded recently with new funding from the Delaware County Council. It has three detectives, two forensic analysts, and two analysts who investigate cyber tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

“We are the processing and clearinghouse for every single cyber tip in Pennsylvania,” said Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan. In 2016, according to Whelan, more than 3,000 tips led to 300 arrests statewide, 29 in Delaware County.

As of July 1 this year, the national center had delivered 2,700 tips, 29 of which resulted in Delaware County arrests.

“Today we’re announcing a new weapon in the war against child victimization, child exploitation,” Whelan said. “And the name of that weapon, the name of that special tool, is Charlie.”

Marlon V. Miller, a special agent in charge of Homeland Security in Philadelphia, said Charlie has “game-changing abilities.”

“As technology advances, devices become smaller and smaller, and criminals are better able to hide the elements of their crime,” Miller said.

That’s where Charlie comes in. During her training, the K-9 located a micro-SD card — roughly the size of a fingernail — under a carpet.

Evans, who has been with the department since 2009, said Charlie doubles as a family pet. He takes her home at the end of the workday. He said his daughter has made a habit of kissing her good night.

And she has been “therapeutic” for him as well, Evans said. Having her by his side is a break from the dark work of sussing out child predators, he said.

“It’s been great,” Evans said. “I’ve got a pet at home and I’ve got a buddy that comes with me to and from work.”