ST. PAUL — The newest member of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) investigations team is a two-year-old black British Labrador trained to locate electronic evidence such as USB drives, cell phones and micro SD cards. K9 Sota is the first electronic detection K9 in Minnesota.
Training dogs as electronic detection K9s is a relatively new practice – just two years ago there were only three such K9s in the United States. Now there are about three dozen. K9 Sota locates evidence by recognizing the odor of triphenylphosphine oxide, or TPPO – a chemical coating on all memory storage chips in electronic devices.
K9 Sota’s training began in Michigan where she received training to be a service dog. She was found to be too high energy for that role and transitioned to electronic detection training at Jordan Detection K-9 in Indiana.
“K9 Sota is trained to help find tiny pieces of plastic that may contain critical evidence in a case,” said BCA Superintendent Drew Evans. “Adding her to our team will help the BCA further strengthen our cases involving predatory criminals.”
Sota primarily will work on child exploitation cases across Minnesota, but her work also includes financial crimes, homicides, and other cases where electronic storage devices may contain valuable evidence. She is partnered with BCA Special Agent Lucas Munkelwitz who works in the BCA’s predatory crimes section.
“BCA agents first sweep a scene for any obvious evidence and then we send in K9 Sota,” Special Agent Munkelwitz said. “Her job is to find tiny pieces of meticulously hidden evidence.”
K9 Sota started work at the BCA in May. Since then she has been deployed on10 cases including predatory crimes, homicides, and financial crimes. She has located 21 pieces of potential electronic evidence, including a meticulously hidden cell phone from a homicide case.
The BCA received K9 Sota thanks to the organization Operation Underground Railroad, which purchased her and paid for her training – about $15,000 in total. The only costs incurred by the BCA are her kennel, food and vehicle equipment.
“The BCA is fortunate to receive a K9 of this quality who is trained and ready to go,” Superintendent Evans said. “We are grateful to have K9 Sota here at the BCA working cases in Minnesota.”