Meet Harley, PRP’s Electronic Storage Detection Canine OfficerBy Detective Andrew Ullock, Peel Regional Police ICE UnitCanada proudly welcomed its first ESD canine, Harley, to the Peel Regional Police ICE Unit. In 2012, Dr. Jack Hubball was given a challenge by investigators with the Connecticut State Police. The PhD chemist, who worked at the Connecticut State Police Forensic Sciences Lab, was asked if he could train a dog to smell out digital memory storage devices. The Connecticut State Police lab was partial to scent detection dogs, so it was not an abnormal request for them to consider. This was the same lab that, in 1986, trained and deployed the world’s very first accelerant detection dog for use in arson investigations. It seemed that they were overdue for a sequel to that success story.

Dr. Hubball got to work and was able to identify the chemical triphenylphosphine oxide, or TPPO for short, which is distinctly associated with digital memory devices. The chemical is applied to memory storage during the manufacturing process in order to keep the memory from overheating. As it turned out, TPPO also had a scent that dogs could detect. Once that was established, Dr. Hubball helped train the world’s very first Electronic Storage Detection, or ESD, canine, who was a black Labrador retriever named Selma.

Selma started to accompany the Connecticut State Troopers on search warrants when they were looking for evidence of child pornography. The results were immediate and amazing, as she frequently found storage devices that had been missed by the investigators during their initial search. This was, as they say, a game changer.
Since then the use of ESD canines has exploded, with over 100 of them currently deployed across the USA alone. A few years ago, Australia joined the ESD canine club and were soon followed by South East Asia in 2022. Then, in 2023, Canada proudly welcomed its first ESD canine, Harley, to the Peel Regional Police ICE Unit.Working Canines The Peel ICE Unit has nine officers and each year they conduct dozens of search warrants on residences. Each warrant presents the opportunity to find, or to miss, crucial evidence. Online child exploitation investigations rely almost exclusively on digital evidence, which is very easily hidden, missed, or destroyed. Missing a storage device that is hidden in an unusual location, or lost in the endless clutter of a messy home, can mean an abuser goes free. Investigators are very aware of the importance of finding all storage devices so the search for evidence can be full and thorough.Wanting to mitigate the risk of missing evidence, the Peel ICE Unit teamed up with a charity in the USA called Operation Underground Railroad, whose purpose is to combat human trafficking and the online exploitation of children. In order to help meet this goal the charity funds, amongst other things, the acquisition and deployment of ESD canines in law enforcement.By working with OUR, Peel was able to acquire Harley in January of 2023. Her handler is an ICE Unit member whose job it is to deploy her at search warrants and to upkeep her training on a daily basis. Harley resides with her handler and travels with him to work every day, making her a full-time member of the ICE Unit. And, like Selma before her, Harley has very quickly produced results.Harley is able to search homes faster and more accurately than humans, especially when the residence is very cluttered. So far, Harley has found additional digital storage devices in about 50 percent of the cases she has worked, but the benefits of her deployment don’t end there. Her presence can have a calming effect on the members of the home, and on the warrants where she doesn’t find additional devices, she provides assurances that the investigators haven’t missed anything.Emotional Support Harley also has a very important secondary role that comes naturally, given her friendly and affectionate personality. When she is not searching for devices, she acts as an emotional support dog for victims and officers. For officers in the ICE Unit, Harley provides a level of support that is nothing short of amazing. The brief, frequent, and friendly diversions that Harley provides offer a level of mental health safeguarding and support that was only dreamt of before. Harley is also available for any member of Peel Regional Police who wants to take a break from their workday and have a supportive encounter with a dog who never tires of making new friends. The ICE Unit, which doesn’t exactly have a lot of visitors to the office before Harley’s arrival, now has numerous visitors every day, who come to see her and to interact with the ICE staff.Harley has also been helping sex assault and human trafficking victims who must re-live the trauma inflicted on them when they give interviews or provide court testimony. She has been able to instantly bring smiles and laughter to tear filled victims after their interviews, and has given human trafficking witnesses the courage to face their abusers in trial. Harley provides a very effective way to support victims, helping to build and maintain a bridge between them and the investigating officers and making a difficult process bearable.Harley also provides a valuable avenue for public engagement. Between social media posts and attendance at public events, Harley offers citizens an opportunity to make contact with ICE members in a friendly environment. Creating dialogue between the public and members of ICE provides an opportunity to combat child exploitation in a way that is often overlooked, education. This is especially important in the post-pandemic world where incidents of online child exploitation have greatly increased but saw many public engagements disappear.We are all guilty of taking for granted the capabilities of dogs. However, Harley is more than just a dog. She is a member of the team and the officers in the ICE Unit are her pack. She fills the gaps in the investigations and provides crucial support for both officers and victims. When we stop and take stock of what deploying a dog like Harley has done for us, there is only one thought that comes to mind. What took us so long?Detective Andrew Ullock is a member of Peel Regional Police’s ICE Unit.

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