ORLANDO, Fla. – Police dogs, with their ultra-sensitive noses, have long been trained to successfully follow a human scent, sniff out drugs, or locate cadavers.
But K-9s, it turns out, are just as effective in locating hidden cell phones, memory cards or hard drives.
Kissimmee Police K-9 Officer Georgie Torres, also a Florida statewide cybercrimes task force agent, was frustrated that searches by human hands and eyes were “leaving evidence on the table” and allowing suspects accused of child sex crimes to spend less time in prison or avoid a conviction entirely.
Often times, Torres could tell through a forensic examination of computer hard drives that files showing child pornography or child abuse were transferred to another device but that device could not be found.
Torres said child molesters or child pornographers hide their electronic devices from family members, friends and law enforcement.
So as soon as Torres learned of a K-9 trained in detection of electronic devices, he secured permission from the police chief and purchased “Baxter.”
“We are a lot more sure of ourselves [with Baxter] once we leave a home that we got everything we needed,” Torres said. “So that way we can go out and stop these kids from being hurt in the way that they are.”
K-9 Baxter was trained by the same handler who trained the electronics-detecting K-9 in the Jared Fogle case, the former Subway Sandwich Shop spokesperson, according to Torres. Fogle was convicted of trading child pornography in Indiana in 2015.
Over the past year, Baxter has assisted Torres in 50 searches of homes of suspected child molesters, abusers, and pornographers around the state.
In a third of those cases, Baxter discovered hidden electronic evidence that Torres said he never would have found on his own.
In one case, Baxter located a hard drive containing child pornography in a pile of boxes.
“The garage was pretty packed and he indicated on a box and when we opened that box there was a hard drive in there that ultimately led to that subjects arrest,” Torres said. “It would have taken days to search all those boxes.”
Torres said in another case, Baxter discovered a tiny hidden memory card inside the console of a car, also containing child pornography.
“Ultimately he’s impacted kids’ lives, kids that he’ll never meet,” Torres said.
Torres said the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office is the only other law enforcement agency in Central Florida with a dog that can detect electronic devices.
K-9 Baxter was named for Officer Matthew Baxter who was killed in the line of duty in 2017.