Electronics-detection K-9 joins SC probation and parole department

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Published: Dec. 19, 2022 at 7:44 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Files containing heinous and illegal images and videos, like child pornography, can be stored and hidden on devices smaller than an adult fingernail.

Law enforcement officers know they are out there, but these devices are so small, they can be hard to find during searches.

But a state law enforcement agency in South Carolina now has a new tool to track down criminals exploiting children.

“It’s unusual to have such a powerful weapon for law enforcement to come in such a beautiful, fuzzy package,” Gov. Henry McMaster said at a press conference at the State House on Monday.

That weapon is Chip, a one-and-a-half-year-old Golden Retriever-Labrador mix and the newest crime-fighting member of the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services.

Chip can sniff out the chemicals that hold digital memory cards and electronic devices together, and he will accompany Agent Benjy Partain on random searches of the approximately 700 convicted sex offenders under active SCDPPPS supervision.

“This year alone, our forensic techs have searched over 291 devices, 51 of them were in violation of the law, and four contained child pornography,” SCDPPPS Deputy Director of Offender Supervision and Enforcement Services Chad Gambrell said.

But the department said human agents can miss some of these tiny devices that sex offenders might be carrying or have hidden in their homes or vehicles.

Chip showed off his training in a demonstration at the State House on Monday, finding and alerting Partain to a USB flash drive hidden in a can and a micro-SD card, smaller than a thumbnail, tucked inside a fake coin.

“Currently right now, the average K-9 will locate over two devices per search,” Toni Clark, CEO of the Greenville-based nonprofit Defenders for Children, said. “That’s powerful because that one device missed can be that device that leads to live victims that are being horribly abused.”

A grant from Defenders for Children and Spectrum paid for the state to acquire Chip, along with his equipment and five months of training in Indianapolis, a total cost the nonprofit says typically runs around $23,000.

Electronics-detecting dogs are employed by law enforcement in other states around the US, and even other agencies in South Carolina, mostly through local sheriff’s offices and departments.

But Chip will be the first in the nation to specifically work for a state probation-parole agency, targeting reoffending sex offenders.

“The existing sex offenders have already been prosecuted. I’m sure some of them are listening to us right now. We know if they are dabbling into horrible acts with children, they’re doing to do a better job in hiding the devices. We know that, and that’s where we’re hoping that this will deter them from even going in that direction in any way,” Clark said.

With Chip’s arrival in South Carolina, the state now has the most electronics-detection K-9 in the country, according to Defenders for Children.

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