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Harford County Sheriff’s Office gets Maryland’s first electronics-sniffing dog

Sata, an electronic storage detecting dog, was welcomed to the Harford County Sheriff's Office Thursday. Sata will work as a therapy dog and detecting storage devices housing child pornography.
Sata, an electronic storage detecting dog, was welcomed to the Harford County Sheriff's Office Thursday. Sata will work as a therapy dog and detecting storage devices housing child pornography.(James Whitlow)

Sometimes, justice wears a collar.

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office welcomed its newest member, Sata, an electronics-sniffing K-9, on Thursday. Sata is the first electronic storage devices, or ESD, dog at the sheriff’s office or any law enforcement agency in the state of Maryland, Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler said.

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The almost two-year-old Sata is trained to detect devices like phones, USB drives and hard drives. He will be used, Gahler said, by the Harford County Child Advocacy Center’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit, which deals chiefly with child sexual abuse.

But along with detecting storage devices used for child pornography, Sata will pull double duty as a comfort dog, his partner Det. Carey Gerres said, for families and survivors of child sexual abuse.

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Gerres explained that electronic storage devices give off a distinct scent that Sata is able to pick up through a sense of smell many times keener than a human’s. Demonstrating his ability, Sata found several electronic devices nestled in the grass outside the sheriff’s office’s Bel Air headquarters, neatly sitting next to them after sniffing them out.

Gahler said Sata will assist with search warrants where needed, and his ability to pinpoint hidden electronics storing potentially illegal contents is a valuable tool for the agency. Criminals are clever in hiding evidence, sometimes, he said, and dogs like Sata are likely to become a trend in law enforcement.

“[Criminals] are going to try to hide those in places that we may not find with a thorough search or with our eyes,” Gahler said “It is one more tool in our arsenal to go against these predators."

As the first electronic storage detecting dog in Maryland, Gahler said envisions using Sata to help other law enforcement agencies. But there is only one Sata, he said, with a list of duties to perform and not enough hours in the day to help over 100 Maryland agencies.

The sheriff anticipated electronics-sniffing dogs to gain currency with law enforcement, and expected to see more interest in them in the future.

“We are certainly always going to help fellow law enforcement anywhere in the state or outside of the state,” Gahler said. “I think this is going to be a growing trend among law enforcement agencies.”

But for all Sata’s training, he is still dog, Gerres said, and a happy one at that.

“As soon as he goes home, he is a family dog,” she said. “He knows when he puts the collar on and when I say ‘it is time to go to work,’ he knows it is time to get in the car and go to work.”

Electronic storage detecting K-9s gained profile with the arrest and conviction of Subway’s disgraced pitchman Jared Fogle. In 2015, a K-9 named Bear found key evidence in Fogle’s home that helped lead to his conviction. Bear was trained by Jordan Detection K-9 in Indiana, which also produced Sata.

The costs of getting and training Sata, according to a news release from the office, were funded by Neighborhood Electronic Detection K-9 Inc., an Indianapolis-area nonprofit that provides similar dogs to law enforcement.

Sata is the sheriff office’s eighth dog, Gahler said. The agency also has K-9 officers in its patrol, narcotics detection and explosives detection divisions, said Cristie Hopkins, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office.

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