Sexual crimes against children is a subject few people want to discuss but it is real and it is happening in Bryan County. While it is, like other crimes, never going to be completely eradicated, the Bryan County Sheriff ’s Office under Chief Mark Crowe with assistance from the GBI and the Defenders for Children organization is working diligently to get a handle on it.
And, this week the BCSO introduced the newest addition to the department in Deputy Darcy.
Darcy, a corporal, is no ordinary deputy: she’s a beautiful black lab, a family dog at night and a crime fighter during the day.
Darcy, the third K9 added to the sheriff ’s department in the last 18 months, is an electronic detection K9 trained to detect digital devices used by pedophiles and other offenders who commit sexual crimes against children.
Those crimes consist primarily of child abuse, trafficking and pornography.
Detection dogs are typically used to look for drugs, explosives, search and rescue, etc. Training K9s to detect hidden electronic devices is a new addition to the group.
These dogs can locate all types of electronic storage devices including micro SD cards, thumb drives, hidden cameras, phones and more.
At a press conference held Monday at the 911 response center in Richmond Hill several different devices used by the offenders were on display.
For example, there was a 50-cent piece with a chip which had been inserted into the coin and an ordinary looking ball point pen which, when examined, showed a pin hole opening for a camera. When the cap was removed there was a chip which contained thousands of photos of children forced into committing unspeakable acts.
Electronic detection K9s help arrest abusers, producers, buyers and sellers that drive the market for child pornography.
“I think there’s a lot more of it going on than people realize,” Crowe said. “We could do one or two a month (arrests) and we’re a county of 45,000 people.”
Deputy Jennifer Fleming is Darcy’s handler and she, like Crowe, is excited about the possibilities that lie ahead, not only for citizens of Bryan County but surrounding counties as well.
Darcy is only the second electronic detection dog in the state. The other one is located in Houston County.
“She’s available to other agencies, too,” Fleming said. “All we ask is one day’s notice.
“When the possibility of getting a dog like Darcy first came up Sheriff Crowe never hesitated,” Fleming said. “He was all for doing it and we’re excited. She’s already helped us in making an arrest of a 50-year-old man in Richmond Hill.”
“She lives with my family. She’s just like any other family dog. My two children play with her and love her. In the morning when I get up and put on my uniform, she goes to work with me.”
Acquiring Darcy began with a recommendation from the GBI to Defenders for Children, an organization based in Greenville, S.C., founded by Toni Clark and her husband, Kenneth, Its mission is to assist law enforcement agencies and educate communities to prevent abuses of children and to keep them safe.
It costs approximately $25,000 to train a dog and the cost is all paid by donations. If an individual or organization is interested in how to contribute they can go to DefendersForChildren.org for additional information.
The GBI has an office in the 911 call center where an officer’s sole job is to monitor internet traffic of websites used by child pornographers. When officers detect an unusually heavy amount of material being downloaded they notify the appropriate agencies.
“The GBI recommended us to them (Defenders for Children) and that opened the door,” Crowe said. “I was excited as I was in the process of rebuilding our K9 deputies.” “This all started about a year ago,” Fleming said. “Then in February or March Toni reached out to us to let us know they had a dog in training in Indiana. When I went out in May she was fully trained. We basically spent two weeks bonding.”
Typically, when a warrant is executed officers will search the premises and then the electronic detection K9 does an additional search. The dogs find, on average, two to three hidden devices human law enforcement teams miss.
How a dog can be trained to detect a well-hidden device is a marvel unto itself. It is something which has come about in just the last five years.
“There’s a chemical compound put on devices that gives off an odor,” Fleming said. “The dog is trained to detect that odor.”
Fleming has been with the sheriff ’s department for a year and a half and prior to that she was a member of the city of Pembroke police force for more than three years.
The Richmond Hill arrest was the first in which Darcy was involved. But it is, Fleming said, just the beginning.
“We’re getting warrants,” Fleming said. “The next thing is we hope to start a program with the schools and groups to educate people. Education is the key.”