Police dog sniffs out flash drives in porn case

OGDEN, Utah — He struts between desks at the Weber County Sheriff’s office, greeted like a celebrity by colleagues who call out, “Hey, it’s the porn dog!”

That’s right: porn dog, aka smut mutt. He’s the department’s newest crime-fighting tool with a nose that could help put away some of the country’s most predatory and dangerous criminals.

The rambunctious, dumpster-diving, desk-climbing, leash-chewing black Labrador, twice rescued from the pound, is Det. Cameron Hartman’s new secret weapon and partner. Hartman got him at the end of May and named him URL, pronounced “Earl.” It’s a fitting name for what he’s trained to do.

URL sniffs out electronic storage media. Still just a pup, the 18-month-old K-9 is one of fewer than two dozen such dogs in the United States that hunt the unique chemical compounds emitted from flash drives, memory cards, cell phones, iPads and other similar devices.

While dogs like URL can’t tell detectives if a device has electronic evidence on it, they are able to find devices that humans might otherwise miss.

High-profile crime busts S068915667-300

Hartman points to the high-profile case of former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle, who was convicted on child pornography and other charges last year.

A K-9 named Bear, who was trained by the same man who trained URL, led investigators to hidden thumb drives inside Fogle’s home. The US Attorney’s office for Southern Indiana confirmed those devices contained evidence against Fogle.

Bear also worked the case against former USA gymnastics coach Marvin Sharp, accused of child molestation. Sharp committed suicide while in jail.

During a search of Sharp’s house and gymnastics studio, Bear led investigators to a gun safe that was hiding several SD cards, according to Bear’s trainer Todd Jordan, who was involved in the search.

“And you know how airtight those safes are,” Jordan said. “It goes to show how sensitive their noses really are.”

Hartman is part of Utah’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and thinks URL has a lot of potential. While he can’t talk about open cases, he confirmed that URL has found evidence relating to pornography during the execution of search warrants for the task force in several investigations of child sex crimes and child trafficking.

“If there’s an investigator that has a belief that there might be evidence concealed on an electronic storage device, then that’s where (URL) would come in,” Hartman explained.

“He actually found a USB that was in this jar that was closed, and the jar was in a box, and the box had stuff in it. The jar itself had stuff in it.”

Most of URL’s counterparts are on the East Coast, working with law enforcement in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Virginia.

Bear is now in Seattle, and there’s another specially trained K-9 in Alaska. But URL is the only known electronic storage detection K-9 in the Rocky Mountain Region, which means he can be called to work state and federal investigations as well.

“The counterterrorism stuff, the child exploitation kinds of crimes, the child porn crimes, child trafficking,” said Hartman. “There are so many different types of crimes that can be documented on electronic media storage.”

Porn dog, aka smut mut is Weber County Sheriff's office department's newest crime-fighting tool with a nose that could help put away some of the country's most predatory and dangerous criminals.

Porn dog, aka smut mut is Weber County Sheriff’s office department’s newest crime-fighting tool with a nose that could help put away some of the country’s most predatory and dangerous criminals.

Trainer looks for dogs with high energy, no fear

These K-9s go through four to five months of training, working three hours a day, every day.

“The only time a dog eats is when he works,” explained Jordan, founder of Jordan Detection K9 in Indiana, a premier training outfit for K-9s specializing in electronic detection.

The dogs go through a rigorous positive-reinforcement training regimen. They are rewarded with food when they “hit” on electronic storage devices.

Jordan said it takes a dog with incredible energy and drive. He got URL from a shelter after he was adopted and then returned because his behavior was out of control. The adoptive family had deemed URL “un-trainable.”

“Those are the best kinds of dogs. If a dog has that much energy and no fear … if a dog has what people don’t like, that’s exactly what I look for,” said Jordan. “The first day I got him he was ready to work.”

Hartman agreed: “That nose goes to work and I think that hunger drive comes out and he does what he needs to do. … He’ll out-work me, for sure.”

Expensive price tag

The K-9s, however, don’t come cheap. The Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force shelled out more than $10,000 to bring URL to Weber County after his training was complete.

Jordan said he has two more dogs ready to go.

“I’ve had several people call. I have, like, 16 departments pursuing this. It just depends on who gets the money,” said Jordan.

Hartman said he believes URL’s value will be proven over time. He already sees therapeutic benefits to having a dog by his side and said URL has helped de-escalate sensitive situations when children are involved.

Plus, given the explosion of technology, Hartman suggests that not having a dog like URL could mean a bigger price for law enforcement to pay.

“I look back on all the other cases that we as a team have investigated and served search warrants on, and it makes me think, ‘What have we missed?'” said Hartman.

“Even if he worked 19 years and we were only able to get one really bad guy with him, to me that’s worth it.”