Written By: Mike Bullock
Owner /Trainer Bullocks Professional Canine
I am often asked how to collect scent articles for k9 tracking. This subject is really not as complicated as some make it but at the same time it can cause problems when doing it the wrong way. First I would like to talk about some obvious rules and issues first. When ever you are called to a scene find out who, what, when and where ,I know this sounds silly but you would be surprised how many start tracking with no points of direction, or references to descriptions of the person to be tracked or even to how long it had been started.. Remember proper start is a big deal in tracking. I try to teach my students to be watchful for the small details before and during the track, the little things help the percentages of successful tracks go up.
First I think one of the most important things for k9 handlers to do, is to educate their fellow officers on the proper ways to preserve a scene of a future k9 track. Before the k9 has ever gotten out of the car he could already be defeated by police officers destroying track areas and article collection sites. If a k9 is to work properly he must have a proper place to start the track that is uncontaminated or the dog must have a way to discriminate the odor to which we what him to start. This is where proper collection of scent articles is most important. The dog can’t track the proper person if he has no start or if he has no distinguishing odor to work with. Now that the base has been covered, and everyone has been briefed and everyone is on the same page as to what not to do, then it is up to the k9 officer to collect evidence for the k9 to work with. Lets take a jump and run scenario from a car, where should you start. 1st always ask for directions of last known suspect travel, how long it had been since he or she was last seen and what the person was wearing and a basic description, get basic information that can help you get a proper start and a proper finish. When I collect articles I do it in one of two ways. I look for what I call a domestic article first this could be anything inside the car that the suspect had been wearing, touching or using ( hair brushes, sunglasses, clothes etc) If you find these make sure that they are unique to the suspect 1st and then they have not been disturbed by anyone. When you have made a determination that the article can be used collect it with a clean plastic baggie or a clean paper baggie. I take the baggie and make a glove out of it turning the outside of it over my hand to make sure the inside is what touches the article and only the article. I pick up the article then I turn the article inside so that the original outside is exposed and the inside has nothing but the odor of the suspect. Then in conjunction with a proper area of start I can start the dog.
Next when you have made a determination that there is no domestic article, you can change your focus to a self made article. This is an article that you can collect from areas that are unique to the suspect inside of a car. We can make a determination that the suspect was driving the car or exited the car at some point, so we can also determine that he had to touch the steering wheel and the gear shift lever as well as the handle to open the car. These three things should be rather unique to the suspect. Then I take a 4×4 sterile gauze pad from the emergency kit and open one end of it, just enough to expose the end of the pad, taking care not to touch it to anything else. I don’t even remove the pad until I am going to place it in my baggie. Then I wipe the steering wheel with the exposed end of the gauze itself or I can wipe the door handle or I can even lay it over the gear shifter and wipe it down for a few seconds. I then place the pad in my baggie and I place it in my start area and then give the dog a chance to get a sniff, this should get you started correctly. I usually teach my officers to take the article with them you never can tell if you might have to restart the dog.
Crime scene collection is similar, make determinations as to where the crime took place and if there is anything unique to the suspect. Using the same techniques as used in the car collection, domestic articles first (did the suspect leave behind a screw driver or a prying tool) only in this case try to preserve finger prints if possible. Then use the pad to collect odor from areas unique to the suspect. If you have a window that has been broken into use a window seal to collect your scent article. Anything you think the suspect might have touched or used is now in consideration for collection. This paired with proper direction and information should get you started correctly. I hope this information has helped some. This is not every situation but just a over view, remember use your common since and take advantage of what the crooks give you and you will find that your track success increases.
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