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The Seattle police dog who has famously sniffed out child porn

A rare shot of Bear the electronic storage detection dog resting. (Photo courtesy of Seattle Police Department)

If there is such thing as a celebrity police dog, the Seattle Police Department’s black lab mix, Bear, may be just that.

The 5-year-old electronic storage detection (ESD) dog led police to devices containing child porn inside the home of former Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle. Bear also found incriminating electronic devices in the home of Olympics gymnastics coach Marvin Sharp, who was later charged with child pornography charges.

Those cases were in 2015, and Bear was living in Indiana with the firefighter who trained him. But shortly after, he was purchased by the Seattle Police Department; plucked up by his new partner, Detective Ian Polhemus.

Both Detective Polhemus and Bear work with the Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce to find hidden evidence in a suspect’s home.

“Actually, he does not track down child porn,” said Detective Polhemus. “He simply tracks down electronic devices. He doesn’t care what’s on the devices, he only cares about finding them. Then it’s up to the investigators and the forensic examiners to conduct the analysis and figure out whether or not there’s anything of evidentiary value on those devices that he finds.”

So how does Bear find thumb drives and hard drives and phones and laptops? Detective Polhemus says forensic scientists did a chemical analysis and isolated the only non-toxic chemical that these devices have in common.

“That odor was isolated and that’s the one odor that has been introduced to Bear as being an odor that we want him to be able to detect. Because Bear is a food reward dog, he’s highly motivated. So what that means is the only time he eats is when he’s working.”

Therefore, Bear loves to work. Detective Polhemus feeds him three cups of food throughout the day, whether he’s out on a real case or doing his daily training.

“I’ve got the three training boxes here and only one of them has a device in it that he should indicate on. So as I work him through the boxes, ideally he’s going to skip the two boxes that don’t have anything in it. When he gets to the box that has the device in it, Bear is a passive indicator which means he’ll sit. I’ll give him a supplemental command and then he’ll shove his nose in the hole and his tail will wag and he’ll sit there and hold his nose in the hole until I reward him with the food.”

Bear was only the third dog in the country to be trained in electronic storage detection, and he’s one of 25 ESD dogs in the country. Thumb drives and SD cards are tiny and often very well hidden, so Bear is brought in to search for what humans couldn’t find. Detective Polhemus describes a case they worked on in Olympia.

“After the investigators got done with the search, Bear and I went into the area to do a secondary sweep. In a matter of about three or four minutes, Bear came up with five devices that had been missed. It’s my understanding that at least two or three of those devices contained child exploitation material.

Detective Polhemus takes Bear home every night, and I wondered how he keeps him from constantly retrieving electronic devices from around the house.

“Bear, like any true veteran police officer, only works when he knows he’s getting paid. So in Bear’s case, payment is food. He has learned through training and repetition that if he were to, for instance, indicate on the cell phones I have on the table right now, he would receive no reward for doing so. Therefore he just ignores it. In order for him to actually indicate on those cell phones, he has to go through a series of verbal and visual cues that I have to give him.”

Bear is a super-excitable, hyper, sweet and shiny lab, which is why he’s perfect for the job. ESD dogs require a lot of energy and are often snatched up by police when they fail out of guide dog school.

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