Police Dogs Sniff Out Cell Phones

There might be a new chapter to add to that dog training book: How to teach your puppy to find your cell phone. The Maryland Department of Correction already uses cell phone sniffing pooches to keep their jails safe. Maryland's Correctional Commissioner Mike Stouffer and Major Peter Anderson, the head of the K9 unit there, talk about these newly tasked dogs.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Another mystery now: how I never seem to know where my cell phone is. Who better to sniff out this mystery than a dog?

(Soundbite of dog sniffing)

SEABROOK: That's right, a dog that sniffs out cell phones - not in my purse though; in prisons. The Maryland Department of Correction is the training ground for these dogs. So, I drove up to Hagerstown, Maryland to actually meet one of them. His name is Taz and he's one impressive dog.

I also met Mike Stouffer. He's the commissioner of the Maryland Department of Correction. I asked him why he needs a cell phone-sniffing dog.

Mr. MIKE STOUFFER (Commissioner, Maryland Department of Correction): Cell phones have become in all prisons throughout the country a problem as far as contraband control. They rate right up there and sometimes even higher than drugs and tobacco and those types of contraband. And it's real important to keep contraband out of our institutions, because they're the source of strife and problems between inmates.

And typically that sort of strife created by contraband leads to violence, and that's really our goal here to reduce that balance and make the prisons safer.

SEABROOK: Major Peter Anderson, you're the canine commander. Can you show us how they do this?

Mr. PETER ANDERSON (Major, Canine Commander): Absolutely. We'll bring in Sergeant Claudel(ph) and his cell phone detector dog Taz.

SEABROOK: And let me just say we're in a room of a house and you've spread around the room a DVD player, a couple of televisions, an old electronic typewriter, a bunch of electronic devices, and I gather there's a cell phone hidden in one of them.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely.

SEABROOK: All right. Let's see it.

(Soundbite of dog sniffing)

SEABROOK: The dog has stopped at one of the televisions and he's immediately sat down and is staring at his master. I can't believe it. How can the dog differentiate a cell phone inside a television set?

Mr. ANDERSON: Dogs are amazing, you know? We don't even completely understand, you know, just how good their olfactory system is.

SEABROOK: So, we just saw Taz in action. He did a great job. Working dog; sweetheart. Commissioner Stouffer, I want to ask you, though, aren't there other ways that you can control cell phones? I mean, couldn't you just, I don't know, jam the signal or something?

Mr. STOUFFER: Well, as far as that, that's a technology that does exist. It's a very high-end technology. It's very expensive. And the other part is when you're out in the community like this we haven't been able to get the proper clearances to do it. So, we're in a situation where if we jam it there we're jamming the community and there's legal issues to work through that regard and we continue to work through those.

But in the meantime we have to do other things. And as far as control contrabands, it's not just one thing to do. We have to come at it from several different directions and try to reduce it. And the dogs are one good way. Hopefully at some point in time, some day in the future jamming will be another option for us.

SEABROOK: Major Anderson, I understand you took the dogs into the prison recently and what happened?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, we actually did a story on the cell phone dogs. Of course, the inmates saw the story and we entered the institution to do some routine interdiction with our dogs. And one of our Springers entered the housing unit and they started shouting that the cell phone dogs were on the tear. And immediately followed by the sounds of flushing.

SEABROOK: They were all getting rid of their cell phones.

Mr. ANDERSON: Or other types of contraband. You know, the value of canine program in corrections, sometimes is hard to articulate. We can only keep track of what we actually find. But, you know, many times are presence results in contraband being destroyed in ways like that. And so it's hard to articulate and put a number on that value.

SEABROOK: Major Peter Anderson, the canine commander, and Commissioner of the Maryland Division of Correction Mike Stouffer, thank you both very much for speaking with me.

Mr. ANDERSON: You're welcome.

Mr. STOUFFER: You're welcome.

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