CHICAGO (WLS) — As criminals with guns wreak havoc across Chicagoland, leaving a blood trail of dead and wounded, federal authorities are now turning to specially-trained canine teams for help.
Dogs capable of sniffing out firearms, ammunition and shell casings are the latest tools in extreme crime fighting as US law enforcement attempts to control Chicago-area gun violence. The new-fangled attempt is the latest effort at a cease-fire in continuing violence on Chicago streets.
K9 teams have been on the front lines with police and military for decades, sniffing out drugs, bombs and bodies.
Now the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives-known as ATF-is training and certifying dogs to use their keen sense of smell in hunting down gun crime evidence.
The ABC7 I-Team was on hand for an annual canine recertification in DuPage County-honing and testing dogs’ sniffer skills. Initially dogs are trained to detect explosives, residue and post blast evidence.
“These dogs can find everything from military explosives, to commercial explosives to common everyday things,” said canine trainer Sean Simet with the ATF National Canine Division.
Simet explained that the dogs have adapted their bomb-sniffing capabilities to crime-gun evidence “like gunpowder and down to trace, trace amounts as well as what unfortunately is trending –the homemade explosives.”
Canines are conditioned to detect smokeless powder and other explosive fillers, he said, and that also makes the dogs an asset in detecting guns, hidden ammunition and spent shell casings.
“People expect the explosive detection for the these large events whether we’re working on a Super Bowl, an all-star game, you know, working with our state local partners,” said Michael Alongi, ATF Special Agent Canine Handler from the Newark New, Jersey Field Division. “Our bread and butter really is the everyday crimes, state-local crimes, violent crime is really what our emphasis is on” Alongi told the I-Team. “So the shootings where someone may discard their firearm that’s where we really are able to provide our service.”
The list of success stories is growing, according to Chicago Field Division ATF Special Agent Canine Handler Kurt Bentley. “We’ve helped out state and local partners when they needed the firearm or they needed a magazine from the firearm to help prosecute the case” said Bentley, who’s law-dog named Darwin recently helped crack a case. “The officers were out there themselves searching for hours. And then I’ve come out with Darwin and he found it in a matter of minutes.”
In June of 2021 canine teams were called in for a criminal search in Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood. The federal dogs helped track down gun evidence at a shooting scene where two ATF agents and a CPD officer were wounded.
“We found two of the shell casings on the side of the road on the off ramp at I-57” said Dan Durkin, Special Agent Canine Handler, Chicago Field Division. “There’s things you don’t hear about that, yeah, we play a big role. Our canines play a big role in a lot of criminal cases and findings. We got called out for the CPD officer that was shot killed at the beginning of May we have gotten called out to help assist CPD. We got called out to the June 19th mass shooting in Willowbrook to assist DuPage County with that as well.”