Darby, the gun-sniffing lab, joins St. Paul PD

Darby, a 14-month-old American Black Lab, started duty with St. Paul police only one week ago with a unique role.

Immediately, he proved his worth.

"Darby located a firearm here on her very first day," said Officer Sean Higgins, who is Darby’s handler and part of the department’s Gang and Gun Unit.

"Darby is a single-purpose dog and all he does is locate firearms, ammunition and anything that may have come into contact with the gunshot residue," Higgins explained.

Darby is St. Paul’s first K9 solely trained for firearms. The St. Paul Police Department is the first police department in Minnesota to add one to its roster. Up until now, only federal agencies have had dogs trained for this specific purpose.

"There’s less distractions for the single-purpose dog," explains Officer Brady Harrison, a K9 trainer with St. Paul.

Traditionally, police dogs are assigned to patrol officers and trained on drug, explosives or firearms scents, but their primary focus is human scent to help find and detain suspects.

"This dog, all he wants to do is hunt for casings, guns, ammo," said Harrison. "That’s all he cares about. He does not care about human odor."

Darby is not on patrol. Rather, he is assigned to the Gang and Gun Unit and used solely for investigations and search warrants.

A regular K9 may find a gunpowder odor but is focused on finding humans. And since they are with patrol officers, they have other calls that pull them away.

"The dual-purpose guys, they gotta go call to call actually helping catch the guys," explains Higgins.  "Where I can spend the time to locate the evidence after the crime has been committed."

The reason for this singularly focused K9 addition is the rise of gun violence.

"It’s very significant," said Sgt. Colleen Rooney, head of the Gang and Gun Unit, about Darby’s addition.

"It’s another tool that we have within our Gang and Gun Unit in getting guns off the streets, so these children aren’t getting ahold of them."

On Darby’s third day on duty, he found bullet fragments at a murder scene that may otherwise have not been found. Already, St. Paul police are thinking they’ll add more dogs solely focused on firearms.

"Having more dogs and having more noses on the ground to get guns off of our streets, the better," stressed Harrison.