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Volusia County Sheriff’s Detective Chastity Burke has dreamed for years of acquiring an electronic-detection K9 detective.

A dog like that could help investigate sex offenders who exploit children, and often try to hide their electronics from law enforcement.

Burke’s dream has come true, through her new partner: Detective K9 Zen, a black Labrador-retriever puppy who is trained to sniff out evidence in child-exploitation cases via devices such as hard drives, thumb drives, SD cards and cellphones.

Zen is Volusia County’s first-ever electronic-detection dog.

Detective K9 Zen has been trained to detect a chemical found inside anything that can store electronic media and data. In those electronic devices, child predators often store inappropriate images or videos of children.

Detectives Zen and Burke work with the Volusia Sheriff’s Office Child Exploitation Unit and the North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Zen, who joined the Sheriff’s Office in April, is Burke’s first K9 partner. Zen was purchased through a grant by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

To prepare for their partnership, Burke and Zen have completed 160 hours of a Detection K9 Handler Course.

Zen is extremely smart, and will be a tremendous asset to the Sheriff’s Office and assisting other agencies, Burke said.

Burke is passionate about her work to protect children.

Since January 2012, she has served on the North Florida ICAC Task Force. She joined the Volusia Sheriff’s Office Sex Crimes Unit in August 2012. A year later, she was assigned to the Volusia County ICAC Unit.

Her responsibilities include investigating sex offenders who possess, distribute and/or manufacture child pornography. Burke also investigates people who solicit children on the internet.

Burke, a senior deputy since 2016, has attended numerous training courses and conferences related to child exploitation. She learned about how electronic K9 detection was used to investigate former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle, who was convicted in 2015 of receiving and distributing child pornography.

That’s when Burke started dreaming of an electronic-detection K9 for Volusia County.

“This is going to be perfect for our agency. I know it is,” Burke said. “I’ve wanted this for so long, and I’m going to do everything I can to make it best for our agency because I know we can, together. Our primary focus is to protect and save children.”

Burke has received multiple state and local awards for her work.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood is also pleased with the addition of Zen.

“The children of our community have long had a hero in Detective Burke, and now they have one in K-9 Zen, too,” the sheriff said. “Together, I know they’ll do everything they can to put predators behind bars, where they can’t victimize and traumatize any more innocent lives. This is some of the most important work we do in law enforcement, and in Volusia County we’re fortunate to have an outstanding Child Exploitation Unit working hard every day to make a difference.”

Once Detective K9 Zen is fully trained and proficient as an electronic-detection dog, he will also be trained as an emotional-support K9. Zen will be used throughout Volusia County to comfort children during Child Protection Team interviews or in any situation where the child could use a friend to assist in a criminal investigation.

“Not only is this a great tool to arrest child predators and protect the children of Volusia County but Detective K9 Zen also plays a big part in the working environment within the Child Exploitation Unit,” Sheriff’s Office Lt. Kurt Schoeps, who supervises Burke and Zen, said.

Schoeps added, “Child Exploitation Unit detectives endure very traumatic material on a daily basis. Providing resources and outlets for these detectives is paramount. Detective K9 Zen instantly provides a stress relief and a level of comfort within the office. But when it is time to work, Zen is starting to prove himself as one of the best detection dogs in the state.”

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