How Browser the dog sniffs out child porn in Lake County

  • Carol Gudbrandsen, a cyber crimes analyst with the Lake County state's attorney office in Waukegan, shows off Browser, an electronic evidence detection dog. He can track down hidden electronic equipment by sniffing out the chemicals baked into circuit boards.

      Carol Gudbrandsen, a cyber crimes analyst with the Lake County state's attorney office in Waukegan, shows off Browser, an electronic evidence detection dog. He can track down hidden electronic equipment by sniffing out the chemicals baked into circuit boards. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Browser works all day with Carol Gudbrandsen, a cyber crimes analyst in the Lake County state's attorney office in Waukegan. He's ready to go at any moment and also gives Gudbrandsen a morale boost.

      Browser works all day with Carol Gudbrandsen, a cyber crimes analyst in the Lake County state's attorney office in Waukegan. He's ready to go at any moment and also gives Gudbrandsen a morale boost. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Carol Gudbrandsen, a cyber crimes analyst with the Lake County state's attorney office in Waukegan, shows off Browser, the office's new electronic evidence detection dog. He's used to find hidden electronic devices in child pornography cases.

      Carol Gudbrandsen, a cyber crimes analyst with the Lake County state's attorney office in Waukegan, shows off Browser, the office's new electronic evidence detection dog. He's used to find hidden electronic devices in child pornography cases. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/16/2018 7:45 PM

Lake County prosecutors have a new Browser to help sniff out electronic devices containing child porn.

Unlike Google or Firefox or other internet browsers, this one has a long tail, an acute sense of smell and a red rubber bone he thrusts at people when they visit him at work.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"He loves showing off his bone when people meet him," Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said as he reached out to pet the 18-month-old English black Labrador retriever, the office's latest weapon in the fight against child exploitation.

"Browser makes us more effective in these very serious child pornography cases and helps us get more child predators off the street," Nerheim said.

Browser is one of two electronic evidence detection dogs in Illinois. There are only about 30 working in the United States, officials said.

He uses his heightened sense of smell to detect triphenylphosphine oxide, a chemical baked onto computer circuits to prevent devices from overheating. That compound covers circuit boards in all storage devices, from large hard drives to cellphones to microSD cards that are about 1 millimeter thick.

Browser, Lake County's new electronic evidence detection dog, shows handler Carol Gudbrandsen that an electronic device is hidden in a microwave.
  Browser, Lake County's new electronic evidence detection dog, shows handler Carol Gudbrandsen that an electronic device is hidden in a microwave. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
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When any Lake County police department seizes an electronic device in a criminal case, Nerheim said, his office's cyber crimes unit recovers evidence from it. Browser helps police find the devices that may have slipped past humans during searches in the past.

"He can sense nearly any electronic, whether it's a thumb drive, a cellphone or a microSD card," Nerheim said. "He is here and accessible to every police department in Lake County."

Browser was purchased five months ago after being trained by Todd Jordan of Jordan Detection K-9 in Indiana. Jordan became famous when his dog, Bear, tracked down a missing SD card in the national criminal case against former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle.

That evidence was vital to Fogle pleading guilty to sex acts with minors and distribution of child pornography, authorities said. Fogle was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison in 2015.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"That's actually where I got the idea for getting Browser," Nerheim said. "I heard about the electronic detection dog in the Fogle case and said we need one."

Nerheim's office applied for grants but came up empty. So, with the support of the Waukegan Police Department, he was able to purchase the dog from Jordan for about $10,000.

Carol Gudbrandsen spent three weeks working with Browser when the Lake County state's attorney's office first obtained him so she could pick up his cues during searches.
  Carol Gudbrandsen spent three weeks working with Browser when the Lake County state's attorney's office first obtained him so she could pick up his cues during searches. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Cyber crimes analyst Carol Gudbrandsen is Browser's handler. She spent three weeks working with the dog to pick up his cues during searches.

"We train twice a day," she said. "We really try and hide things from him. But he always sniffs it out."

Since Browser's arrival in November, he has accompanied police on about a dozen search warrants to track down electronic devices, Gudbrandsen said.

Typically, Browser comes on the scene after humans finish searching, she said. He runs from room to room, jumps on couches and dives into closets, sniffing out any presence of the circuit board chemical.

Browser has found a cellphone buried at the bottom of a full waste paper basket, recovered three small SD cards hidden in a jewelry case, and alerted police to a small SD card hidden in a slipper, Gudbrandsen said.

Browser has his ways of indicating that he's found a hidden electronic device, such as by whining or sitting quietly by it.
  Browser has his ways of indicating that he's found a hidden electronic device, such as by whining or sitting quietly by it. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

"When he goes in, he runs over everything and sniffs everywhere," she said. "And when he triggers on an item, he either whines or sits down and doesn't move. Then, police come in and recover the item."

Gudbrandsen estimated 80 percent of the cases she works on involve child exploitation, and she spends a bulk of her day looking at devices containing child pornography for cases being prosecuted in the state's attorney's office.

Browser helps makes her day a little less dreary.

"He knows right when to walk over with a ball or put his head on my knee and let me pet him," she said. "He's my buddy. He's been great therapy for me."

Browser is also a teaching tool, as he's invited to school assemblies and community events to show off his skills. Gudbrandsen said it opens the door for students to speak with her about cyber crimes and other sensitive subjects.

Browser, Lake County's new electronic evidence detection dog, can sniff out hidden electronics devices, such as cellphones and micro memory cards. He uses his sense of smell to detect triphenylphosphine oxide, a chemical baked onto computer circuits to prevent devices from overheating.
  Browser, Lake County's new electronic evidence detection dog, can sniff out hidden electronics devices, such as cellphones and micro memory cards. He uses his sense of smell to detect triphenylphosphine oxide, a chemical baked onto computer circuits to prevent devices from overheating. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

"We'll hide a small SD card in the hand of one student," she said. "Browser will carefully walk to each student, sniff their hands, then trigger on the student that has it. Everyone is always amazed by it, and the students start asking questions."

Gudbrandsen said Browser is a great tool to have.

"And when it comes to stopping the exploitation of children, we can use all the tools we can get," she said.

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