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Criminal Justice Update

New K-9 agent has a nose for electronics

A new crime fighter has been unleashed to sniff out evidence in Ohio.

Reptar, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever, works for the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) with his handler, Special Agent Josh Rammel, to locate hidden electronic devices with storage capabilities, particularly during searches for child pornography.

“Reptar finds the devices that are hidden in plain sight — and the ones that are purposefully concealed because a suspect does not want us to find them,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said during a news conference announcing the availability of the investigative team.

While executing recent search warrants, Reptar sniffed out an SD memory card in a drawer that had a false bottom and a flash drive hidden inside a truck stereo.

An SD card the size of a fingernail can hold up to 200,000 images.

“This is precisely the kind of device that a child pornographer likes to have. And it’s the kind of device that can be hard to find during an investigation,” DeWine said.

While working, Reptar responds to Rammel’s commands to search an area. When Reptar makes a discovery, he alerts his handler and is rewarded with food.

“The dog is trained to pick up on the scent of a chemical that is used on all electronics that have the capability of storage,” Rammel said. “The chemical is used to keep the storage device from overheating while it is in use. And I’m trained to properly place him and direct him to places where he might sniff out this chemical and to be able to identify his call signs.”

Reptar was trained to be an electronic-detection dog by Jordan Detective K9 of Greenfield, Ind., the same agency that trained the dog who played a role in the arrest of former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to possessing child pornography and other crimes.

Two grants covered the $11,000 cost to buy and train Reptar, who will primarily work in the Attorney General’s Crimes Against Children Unit at BCI.

In 2016, the unit investigated 161 cases, assisting 98 law enforcement agencies in 47 counties in Ohio. In 2016, the unit served — or assisted in serving — 87 children exploitation search warrants. 

“In about seven of those cases, our agents did not uncover any sort of electronic storage device,” DeWine said. “We believe it’s likely we had the right suspect, but without the electronic evidence, it’s more difficult to hold the suspect to justice. With Reptar and Agent Rammel as a team, we hope this will be a game-changer.”

When Reptar isn’t working, he lives with Rammel, who works out of the Bowling Green office.

The dog, named after the hero dinosaur on the animated ’90s cartoon Rugrats, can also provide comfort to crime victims and agents.

Rammel and Reptar are available to offer free assistance to law enforcement agencies statewide on all types of cases. For more information, or to seek their help, call 855-BCI-OHIO (855-224-6446).