Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Fleming and his working dog Niko search for evidence of child pornography inside a Jaffrey, New Hampshire, home on Dec. 1, 2021. Photo by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Fleming does it for Niko every time. He gingerly creates what investigators in the New Hampshire Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force call “wormholes” — passages between piles of stuff like laundry, boxes, food, and trash — just wide enough so the K9 can walk around and take a whiff.
It protects Niko from getting stuck with a needle or ingesting something that’s bad for dogs.
It’s Dec. 1, 2021, and the Labrador-golden retriever mix is searching for child pornography in the New Hampshire town of Jaffrey, about an hour’s drive north from the outskirts of Boston. But he can’t smell pictures of sexually abused kids or illicit footage.
He’s trained to detect triphenylphosphine oxide, an organophosphorus compound better known within the tech industry as TPPO. TPPO coats memory chips and other electronic storage devices to prevent them from overheating. In the 21st century, child pornography is often stowed on flash drives, and there are fewer than 100 K9s nationwide capable of sniffing them out.
With more than a quarter-century spent in law enforcement, Fleming also is the only K9 handler in the Granite State who specializes in finding those kinds of dirty drives.
“I had all this background in it, right? Years of training, experience in investigating sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, both in person and on the internet,” Fleming told Coffee or Die Magazine.
“I get up every day looking to take the fight to the predators, and that’s what I want to do,” Fleming said. “I want to take that dog, and I want to bring the fight to them.”
The task force Fleming and Niko work for was established in 1998 and is headquartered in the Homeland Security Investigations building in Manchester. The 15 officers on the task force, which is funded by state and federal grants, specialize in forensics, interviewing suspects, and researching sex crimes on behalf of more than 100 surrounding communities working to stamp out child pornography.
On the day Coffee or Die tagged along, the officers were serving search warrants tied to alerts from internet giants like Google and Facebook. When those companies detect the potential sharing of illegal images or videos online, they report the incident to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which then creates leads for task forces like the one in New Hampshire to explore.
It’s why the officers were in the Jaffrey home — owned by the mother of the suspect’s girlfriend — creating gaps in the food trash, cardboard boxes, multiple lizard aquariums, and toys for Niko to scoot through and sniff.
A Game Boy gets put aside. When Niko hits on what the New Hampshire State Police troopers call a “hot spot,” they join the task force’s forensic officers pulling apart the pile to locate memory sticks or other drives.
The man who owns the stuff in the bedroom is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The job of the task force, armed with a search warrant, is to see whether officers can tie any evidence found on the memory cards to the initial alerts sent from the internet companies.
Niko’s faster and better at that than they could ever be.
“He’s increased our rate of search because we can now search a lot more in a shorter period of time,” Fleming said. “He’s increased our ability to find things that we normally would have missed.”
This article first appeared in the Spring 2022 print edition of Coffee or Die Magazine as “Taking the Fight to Predators.”
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Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion.
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