San Diego, there’s a new detective in town: a dog named Willow who is helping law enforcement in the ongoing fight against child predators.
The 1 ½-year-old yellow Labrador works, in partnership, with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the San Diego Police Department, and the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.
As a K-9, Willow has a unique distinction: she’s the first-ever electronic detection dog in Southern California to work alongside law enforcement, according to a press release from the DA’s office.
DA Investigator Ron Burleson works with the ICAC Task Force and has been tasked with being Willow’s handler.
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According to Burleson, Willow has been trained to sniff out evidence in child predator cases – specifically electronic evidence. The investigator said the dog can detect a chemical coating found inside anything that can store electronic media and data, from hard drives and thumb drives, to SD cards and cellphones.
It’s in those electronic devices that child predators often store inappropriate images or videos of children. So, Willow’s nose can be a crucial part of an investigation.
“Having the dog find some of that media that could otherwise be overlooked could make all the difference in the world for one child,” Burleson explained.
Burleson said that once Willow detects an electronic media device, investigators search the media and make sure there aren’t images of children on it.
“Because that means there are some kids that we need to go find, and that we need to rescue,” he added.
Willow, like many dogs, is trained using a food reward-based tactic. Burleson said she eats three cups of food each day and is given her meals when she detects a device.
And, when she’s not working, Burleson said Willow lives like any other dog.
“When she’s with me in the office, she’s just a companion in the office to all the investigators that are in there. When she’s home, she’s just a family dog,” he explained.
But, when it’s time to train or work with law enforcement,
Willow shows up.
“When she does come to work – and when it’s time for her to go to work – she can make a very big difference, and she can help us make much stronger cases,” he added.
Willow serves with the ICAC Task Force in San Diego and Imperial counties. She was purchased for the ICAC by an anonymous donor through the San Diego Police Foundation.