‘Smelly’ new crime fighting tool helps deputies track missing people

July 8 2017

by Harry Sayer

A new tool designed by a former FBI forensic canine specialist uses an unusual item to help law enforcement dogs find missing people: armpit scent.

Three Florida counties are using the scent preservation kits — devices that store a person’s unique smell — to track missing persons.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office office has incorporated the kits into their Extra Special Person program in June. The program focuses on supporting people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. It also includes small children or people with autism.

The devices are simple to use — a person unscrews the jar with a gauze pad inside, wipes their armpit with the pad, and puts it into the jar and seals it while keeping it away from heat and sunlight. If the person was to ever go missing, K-9 units have an uncontaminated smell to track.

Marion County Capt. Alicia Walker thought it was important to add a new dynamic to the ESP program, in which more than 500 people are enrolled. About 1,000 of the kits were purchased.

“We have a big county,” she said. “The quicker we can locate someone, the better the outcome.”

The Marion County Sheriff’s office has had 758 missing persons calls since July 5, 2016 — 378 of them in 2017, said spokeswoman Lauren Lettelier.

The Alzheimer’s Association website says six in 10 people with Alzheimer’s will wander away from their homes once in their lives.

“Anything that helps find a missing person is exciting,” said Michelle Branham, Alzheimer’s Association Vice President of Communications and Public Policy for Central and North Florida.

The kits, which are also used in Sumter County and Citrus County, were created by Tallahassee-based Scent Evidence K9 company. Paul and Donna Coley established the company in 2012, according to the company website.

Paul Coley developed the idea after working as a Forensic Canine Operations Specialist for the FBI.

“Speed is the most important thing in a missing persons case,” he said.

The couple developed the kits by testing them with their own bloodhounds, some of whom they named after “Charlie’s Angels”: Nancy Drew Two, Charlie, Sabrina, Kelly and Jill.

While the Marion County Sheriff’s Office has yet to use the kits, K-9 unit Sgt. Daniel Trammell tested one by setting a sample and making a track for a bloodhound. The Florida Department of Corrections had their K-9 Penny successfully track Trammel using the kit, even with a contaminated trail full of different scents.

Joe Blanton, Scent Evidence K9’s marketing director, said the company is in talks with more Florida counties about the scent preservation kits.

No other central Florida police or county sheriff’s offices are using the Scent Evidence kit.

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