Specialist police sniffer dogs lead to 215 arrests

2015-06-21 10:05
Warrant Officer Jason Reddy and his sniffer dog Paris. (Giordano Stolley, News24)

Warrant Officer Jason Reddy and his sniffer dog Paris. (Giordano Stolley, News24)

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Durban - As long as crime has been fought, dogs have been used in the battle to keep lawlessness at bay. But mention a police dog and thoughts inevitably turn to that of a dog with its teeth bared, chasing down a criminal or keeping angry protesters at bay during riot control.

However, there is an elite group of 30 dogs in South Africa that never bare their teeth, and are usually friendly Border Collies or Labradors.

These are the dogs known as the biological, body fluid detection canines. They are specialised in detecting blood and semen. It is this ability that helps detectives solve crimes or gather vital evidence, especially in murder and rape cases.

National police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said in the year ended March 2015, these specialist canines were involved in almost 2 300 searches with 706 samples of blood or semen found and 215 suspects arrested.

There is one such dog at the Umzinto Dog Unit on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast. Paris loves nothing more than to chase down a tennis ball and bring it back to her handler, Warrant Officer Jason Reddy. However, the moment he puts her harness on, it is time to work seeking out blood or semen that is not readily visible.

K9 unit

What kind of dog is recruited to help the detectives?

“It has to be a dog with a friendly disposition. It also needs to be a dog that can get into small areas,” says Reddy, a 20-year veteran of the police. At least 18 of those years have been with the police dogs, or the K9 unit, as it is more commonly known.

Border Collies, Labradors and on occasion German Shepherd dogs are used. Paris is a black and white Border Collie with a little more than five years of service and, according to Reddy, has been the crucial link in a number of cases that have resulted in convictions.

In one case in which two girls were raped in Hibberdene on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, Paris found a drop of blood that was not seen by the naked eye. The sample was taken and tested. The DNA from that small drop matched the DNA of a suspect already on the police’s database.

“That suspect had a previous conviction and we had his DNA on our database. He got 25 years,” said Reddy.

Paris has been trained to differentiate between human and animal samples. She can smell a pinprick-size sample of blood that is not visible to the human eye and can smell blood even if it has been washed away.

In a case where three people were killed in a hit-and-run accident, it was Paris’s sharp smelling ability that picked up the trace of blood inside a hole that would normally contain a screw holding the mud flap of the car that clinched the case. The driver, whom police suspected, had washed the car. The blood found by Paris was tested and found to belong to one of the three dead girls. Her sharp nose saw to it that the driver was convicted of culpable homicide.

Training

The dogs like Paris are picked once they are at least 14 months old and then undergo training at the police’s K9 Dog Training Academy in Roodeplaat in Pretoria.

Captain Cliffie Pillay, who is responsible for the police’s canines in KwaZulu-Natal, said the handlers of biological, body fluid detection canines must have had at least two years of experience as a dog handler.

Reddy was previously the handler of a dog trained to seek out explosives. And before he was teamed up with Paris, he too had to undergo training.

Reddy and Paris get called out once a day by detectives for murder cases or by the Family, Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit for rape cases.

In fact it was such a dog that was called out to help police last week in the hunt for two men who are alleged to have raped an American tourist in the Tsitsikamma National Park.

In one case where a couple was arrested for stabbing Umzinto grandmother Sushila Pillay, Paris located the alleged murder weapon - a knife - in the Umzinto River a week after the murder.

In Durban’s western suburb of Malvern, police had caught the suspect who had told them where he had thrown the knife used to stab a man. Officers could not find it in the open patch of land, but Paris found it still with the victim’s blood on it. While not necessary for the conviction, it solidified the case the police had against the man.

99% success rate

A quiet “Soek” from Reddy sends Paris looking for blood or semen, depending on what is required. When she finds it, she sits down at the spot. And that is when the forensics experts move in to confirm her good work and extract samples required for DNA testing.

In another case a woman who was raped repeatedly in a forest in Dududu near Umzinto was so distraught that she could not recall where in the forest the crime had occurred.

Reddy and Paris were called in and five different crime scenes in the forest were located by Paris.

Paris is expected to work for another five years at least, but even she is tested annually by Pillay to ensure that she is up to scratch.

According to Pillay, Paris will find that sample of blood or semen more than 99% of the time.

There are currently only two biological, body fluid detection canines working in KwaZulu-Natal, but according to Pillay there are plans to bring more of dogs like Paris to KwaZulu-Natal, so criminals beware.

Read more on:    police  |  saps  |  durban  |  crime  |  animals

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