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Training Tips: Article/Evidence Searching

by Rita and Dan Comden

When searching for evidence, whether it be a criminal case or for a lost person, any article, when found, should not be disturbed. The article may have fingerprints, blood, tissue, hair, lint or other miniscule particles vital to resolving a case. Also the article placement may determine direction of travel of a lost person. The area of the find should also be preserved to allow law enforcement investigators to fine-comb the area.

Caption: Krin and Kinga look for evidence Image-Krin and Kinga

On obvious dead bodies, do not walk up to the victim as you could obliterate incriminating footprints or other evidence. If you cannot determine if a person is deceased and need to approach the body, enter and leave the area by the same route. Never litter the area. On a criminal case the cigarette butt, kleenex or candy wrapper you drop could cause unnecessary work and precious time for the investigating agency. Always check with officers before entering any building involved in a criminal case. Never use bathrooms or sinks without checking if the area has been cleared of evidence of blood, hair or other matter. Never relieve yourself in or around the area of an avalanche, disaster or wilderness search involving possible dead victims.

As a search dog handler you may be called to testify in court on a search involving a dead person. Always note the date, time and area of the find as well as position of the body/bones, clothing and anything else you see. Make a sketch of the scene as you found it as soon as possible after the find. Leash your dog and/or tie him out outside of the area to reduce the possibility of the dog interfering with any physical evidence. Do not allow any other persons into the area until a law enforcement official takes over the scene from you. Many searchers carry inexpensive disposable cameras in their search packs to record crime scenes or other evidence -- a good idea and something investigating officers will thank you for later if there are any questions about scene contamination or tampering.

Caption: Sometimes we have to search without dogs! GSSD members performing a close grid evidence search. Image-Isn't this fun?

It's desirable for a dog to bark upon finding a scent article or do a refind without touching or mouthing the article or body parts. This can be taught by going into a practice area the day before and securing a large article (backpack, blanket wrapped around rocks) with wire or cord to a tree so it cannot be removed. Use a command such as ARTICLE so the dog can distinguish among all the other search commands before starting the search. Try to set up the practice problem so the dog must air-scent rather than letting the dog track to the article. Reinforce the new command along the way. Take the dog's reward "toy" so you can ensure a positive reward at the find. This should be slow and methodical searching, so if the dog gets too far ahead, call him back and restart him by pointing to the ground and saying ARTICLE. Eventually start using smaller articles and have the dog sit beside them, bark or do a refind, whatever the dog seems inclined to do. It's entirely possible that the dog will do a similar alert and refind as for a live person, but it will be more restrained than for a person, too.

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Text and photos copyright Dan Comden, 1995-2004 Dan Comden
Seattle, WA U.S.A.
Email -- dan*@* (remove the asterisks around the "@" symbol)