Sniffer dogs trained to help police catch paedophiles, terrorists and fraudsters by detecting hidden digital storage devices have been unveiled in the UK.
Tweed, a 19-month-old springer spaniel, and Rob, a 20-month-old black labrador, are said to the first digital detection dogs outside the US.
The dogs have been trained by Devon & Cornwall and Dorset police but have already been used at crime scenes across the UK. They have been used to sniff out hidden data devices such as USB sticks, SD cards and hard drives.
Ch Supt Jim Nye, commander for the alliance operations department that works across the two forces, said: âThese dogs will give the police a new way to fight the threat of terrorism, paedophiles and fraudsters.â
In 2015, dog instructor PC Graham Attwood began to research whether dogs could be used effectively in this way and worked with his counterparts in Connecticut, who use digital detection dogs.
Most dogs used by the south-west forces come from their own puppy breeding scheme, are given as gifts or are rescue dogs. However, Tweed and Rob were bought especially for this job when they were about 15 months old.
Attwood said: âMyself and members of the alliance dog school initially handled and trained Tweed and Rob mainly in our own time as we were committed to our usual daily duties of training the forcesâ other operational police dogs.â
Mike Real, a recently retired Connecticut state police dog instructor and co-founder of the American programme, along with special agent Jeffrey Calandra, who is the only digital detection dog handler in the FBI, were invited to Devon for a week to train and assess Tweed and Rob.
They passed their assessment with flying colours and were set to work.
Attwood, added: âOur digital dogs have already proven to be a success and have been used in over 50 warrants executed across the UK, including Hampshire, Essex, south Wales, and North Yorkshire.
âWe have already seen some really fantastic results from these two dogs. Tweed on one warrant indicated that something may have been within what looked like a Coke can. This was then inspected by a search officer and discovered that it was actually a money box that had a number of SD cards hidden within it.
âRob has also indicated a small device hidden carefully in a drawer which would have likely to have been missed by the human eye.â
If the dogs continue to do well, others may be trained. The dogs live at home with their new full-time police dog handlers, PC Martin King and PC Jill Curnow.