Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Carmel on the Case: Cell Phone Dogs
On the outside, cell phones are a convenience, but on the inside of a prison or jail, cell phones can be weapons. To fight back, authorities have developed a detection device that's hard to fool. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the Case.
WSVN -- This is Diego. It may look like he's playing, but this is serious business. By chasing his tennis ball amid all that noise, he's learning to focus, from finding his toy to finding a specific smell that will get him rewarded with that toy.
Diego is Florida's first fully trained cell phone detection dog. He can find phones in a toilet or hidden up a wall and points in between.
He works much like a drug dog, except instead of looking for narcotics like this K-9 from Golden Beach, Diego sniffs out cell phones.
Phil Heiser: "It's a big safety issue for the corrections department."
Phil Heiser trains police dogs for departments across the country at Southern Hills Kennel in New Smyrna Beach. He started teaching cell phone detection after authorities told him it was becoming an issue.
At Broward's main jail, corrections officers try to make sure cell phones don't get past the metal detector. They're locked up before visitors can enter. A cell phone in the hands of an inmate can bypass security measures that monitor conversations.
Major Keith Neely: "They can be used to plot an escape. They can be used to harass witnesses. They can be used to harass victims in a case, as well as continue criminal activity."
And that's where Razor comes in. The Florida Department of Corrections invested in her after 565 cell phones were confiscated from state prisons in a one-year period.
On the job for just two months now, she's already had success.
Inspector Freddie Long: "So far we've conducted six searches, and we've got a tally of five phones, so she's doing very well."
And if you're wondering what makes a good detection dog, Phil Heiser says he looks for the ones you probably wouldn't want as pets, dogs that just can't stay inside all day without eating the furniture, dogs that have a strong hunt drive and a lot of stamina.
Carmel Cafiero: "So what is it about a cell phone that the dogs smell? The experts won't tell, but they say it's hard to hide anything from a well-trained dog."
It costs about $7,000 to train a dog.
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