K9 Officers Approach To Blood Contaminated Scenes - Cautions re: Source of Odor
On an early fall morning, the 911 dispatcher for the Langley R.C.M.P. Detachment in British Columbia received a frantic call from an elderly woman saying a man had just broken into her home. While she was talking to the emergency operator, patrol members were dispatched to the scene. Corporal Haworth and police service dog Smokey responded to the call to back up the first member on the scene.
The complainant stated the suspect’s first name over the phone and said he was approaching her. She was pleading for help. At this point the phone went dead.
A few minutes passed before the investigating officer and Corporal Haworth arrived. They immediately checked the house, finding the rear door ajar, but no sound of anyone inside. The following is Corporal Haworth’s account.
“I immediately entered the house calling for the complainant but received no reply. Police dog Smokey, after entering the kitchen area, directed his attention down the main hall of the house. I could see a woman lying on the bedroom floor and obviously seriously injured. Each room leading down the hall was carefully cleared as we made our way towards the woman. It was immediately obvious she was shot or stabbed several times. I completed clearing the house for any possible suspects and took up a search of the exterior of the residence in search of the suspect.”
“The residence was on a large ten acre lot surrounded by similar residences. Exiting at the rear sliding door, Smokey immediately cast around to locate any track leaving the area. Almost immediately he indicated a large bush area and attempted to enter, but it was impossible to do so, even for the dog, as the vines were heavily entwined and overgrown. I made a mental note of the indication by the dog and re-deploy him to cast around again.”
“As the dog approached the front door in search of a track, the dog located a track leaving from the front door area. The track was obviously very fresh as indicated by the dog and led directly east towards the main road.”
“Pursuit was taken up carefully, as it was not known what the suspect had for a weapon. The night was clear and the moon was full, which put the advantage in the suspect’s favor for visibility. As the track was leading us on a slow upward incline, our movements would easily be seen or heard by the suspect.”
“Smokey led us along the track for approximately one quarter of a mile. The track proceeded to a residence, across a gravel walkway and through a patio area to the north east side of the house. At this point Smokey indicated on a window of the house and attempted to enter it. The window was closed at the time and I attempted to have Smokey continue the track, however, all attempts failed as he insisted the track ended at this window.”
“We secured the residence by taking up positions where both the front of the residence and the suspect window could be observed, while my backup officers took up a position of cover to the rear and opposite side of the house. With the residence secured, more backup was called and the investigating members attended.”
“The occupants of the residence were cooperative and assisted the members immediately. The room where Smokey had indicated the suspect, was inspected and found to contain a young male suspect as well as evi- dence confirming his involvement in the offense.”
Upon successful completion of the arrest, Corporal Haworth returned to the crime scene and directed his dog to search the area of his first strong indication in the heavy bush. Approximately 30 feet into the bush, Smokey located the source of the odor… a kitchen knife covered in blood. The evidence was seized and turned over to investigating officers. Murder charges resulted.
This case is a textbook example of proper deployment of manpower and proper approach of a crime scene. Although the suspect had left the scene, there was a high likelihood he could have still been within the residence and a danger to attending officers. Corporal Haworth entered the residence with his dog and a backup officer and as it became apparent the victim was wounded, they ensured they properly cleared the residence before proceeding. Too many officers would have immediately put themselves at risk by exposing themselves to give aid to the victim. Remember, you cannot be of assistance if you are injured or killed while trying to get to a victim. Personal feelings must not interfere with safety or common sense.
As I will explain, in cases such as this, it is easy for your dog to miss a suspect who may be hiding within the building where there has been a large quantity of blood spilled. In such circumstances you cannot depend on your dog to effectively locate a suspect.
Blood is an extremely strong source of human odor. Just as it is difficult for a dog to locate a large cache of drugs in a room, so it is with suspects in a blood soaked area. The scent is so strong it permeates the room and in some cases, the entire building with strong human odor. External odor given off by a suspect will not be as strong and therefore, difficult if not impossible for the dog to work with. You must be sure to clear every possible location for suspects as cautiously as you would without a dog.
Conversely, a suspect who is bleeding, or covered in blood and has left the crime scene, will emit a strong odor and will be easier for the dog to track. For example, a suspect who has cut himself while doing a burglary and then leaves the scene, may be easier to track through heavier than normal contamination due to the strong source of odor.
A suspect’s genetic makeup determines his distinctive odor. Although there are numerous other factors which compose body odor, the genetic imprint cannot be changed. It is distinctive to that individual. A blood trail is very strong in odor and detected easier and with more accuracy by the dog, often with extended time delays and heavy contamination.
In Corporal Haworths statement, he explains how his dog was giving strong indications in a heavy bush area which was obviously too thick for human passage. He made a mental note of the location and returned later to search the area again, resulting in the recovery of the murder weapon. Too often we take what is obvious to the dog and work on that aspect of a crime scene. How many officers would have continued working the dog until locating the weapon before leaving the location and trying to locate a track leaving the area? As a K9 handler, you must think on your feet and often make a decision based on all the circumstances you find yourself in, not just on the obvious indications by the K9. It is be your ability as an investigator combined with your skill as a dog handler which will make the difference.
Authors Note: Tom Haworth is now a Sergeant with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in charge of the dog section in a Canadian municipality. He is one of the head instructors for the K9 Academy For Law Enforcement and specializes in tracking techniques.
Note: More advanced information on this subject during sessions instructed at the International Police K9 Conferences held annually in various locations throughout North America.