Cadaver search dog, handler join Wilmington PD

PortCityDaily.com is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

A Dutch Shepherd that has helped find a dozen bodies since her training as a cadaver K9 is now a volunteer for the Wilmington Police Department.

K9 Jorga and her handler, Randy Searls, of I&I International K9 Search and Rescue Team, have partnered with the police department to assist with its Crime Scene Investigative Unit (CSI), K9 Unit and other investigative teams to help solve local cases, according to Wilmington Police Department Spokeswoman Cathryn Lindsay.

Home-based in Wilmington, Searls and Jorga have traveled throughout the nation and internationally as the K9 team. But Searls felt Jorga’s specialized skills – finding missing people, detecting human remains, and conducting building and evidence searches – could be used more regularly in their hometown.

“It’s only recently that we’ve embedded with the police department. Because she has been so successful with other agencies, and we live here, I felt we really need to do a little more work with our home department,” Searls said. “She will be Wilmington’s very first and only CSI dog. She will process crime scenes.”

Randy Searls and K9 Jorga have joined the Wilmington Police Department to assist in investigations. Photo by Christina Haley.
Randy Searls and K9 Jorga have joined WPD to assist in investigations. Photo by Christina Haley.

I&I International K9 Search and Rescue Team is a 501(c)3, non-profit, corporation and public charity, and comes at no cost to the police department.

The K9 team has worked with the FBI, the State Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in many state, local, and federal investigations, Searls said.

At a little over two years old, Jorga has a unique ability to track people or find evidence while constantly using her sense for human remains, Searls said.

“If there is blood in the area or a body part…she will indicate on those odors without command. Now, the evidence command or the tracking command, she won’t find those unless she’s told to find them,” Searls said.

Jorga has found 12 bodies, four missing people and has helped secure five convictions, Searls said.

“Jorga leaves no one behind. She will find them if they are alive, she will find them if they are deceased, but she leaves no one behind. She will search until she finds them,” Searls said. “She’s opened many cold cases, found evidence in cold cases, [and] has had numerous cadaver finds…which is phenomenal. Some dogs go their whole life and never find one.”

When searching large areas, Jorga carries a tracking device on a collar and has the ability to track several miles in one day, Searls said. The tracking device allows Searls to see the areas Jorga has searched, pinpoint where she has found evidence and relay that information to law enforcement.

The map shows K9 Jorga's vast tracking area as she searches for any evidence of a crime or human remains. Photo courtesy of I&I International K9 Search and Rescue.
The map shows K9 Jorga’s vast tracking area as she searches for any evidence of a crime or human remains. Photo courtesy of I&I International K9 Search and Rescue.

Searls said that type of search can save law enforcement time and resources, even if no physical evidence is found. Jorga’s human and evidence tracking skills are so efficient and reliable that investigators can clear the search area off the list and move on to another location.

“I hope to provide [the police department] with a tool they’ve never had. I want them to have a tool that says WPD, which they have a real history of doing anyway, is just going the extra mile to close the case,” Searls said. “The fact that we can bring a K9 in to search on lots of different things now is really, really helpful for them. I’m also looking to elevate the status of cadaver dogs and what they can do in a CSI environment. And really break loose with that. Because what we’re doing with that is really unique.”

Because Jorga has the unique ability to track blood, she can help investigators process crime scenes, which is “beyond what a typical dog can do,” Searls said.

While most K9 officers spend about 6 weeks training with their dogs before working in the field, Jorga and Searls have been training continuously in multiple disciplines since she was about 3 months old, Lindsay said. Jorga has already assisted the police department’s homicide investigations unit on several high-profile cases over the past 18 months, she added.

“Jorga is truly a unique K9,” Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said. “She and Randy will be a great complement to our existing K9 team, and a huge asset to the local community.”

For more information about I&I International K9 Search and Rescue Team or to make a donation visit their website.