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Charlotte's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Charlotte, North Carolina | WCNC.com

Search kits help police, search dogs solve missing people cases

A new kit called Find'em Scent Safe could help police find loved-ones faster with just a simple swab. WCNC put it to the test.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Police routinely bring in bloodhounds and search dogs when people go missing: kids, elderly people with cognitive impairments, hikers or hunters.

About 610,000 Americans were reported missing in 2018, according to the National Crime Information Center.

A new kit called Find'em Scent Safe could help police find loved-ones faster with just a simple swab.

"It's important to put it on certain parts of your body to collect the maximum amount of scent," Matthews Police Officer Kevin Osuch said.

Osuch trains K-9 officers nationwide to respond using scent articles like a piece of clothing that can easily get contaminated by the touch and smells of other family members. 

With his help, WCNC put the Find'em Scent Safe kit to the test at the Matthews Sportsplex -- a high traffic area often filled with cars, people and other animals.

"You have a lot of different variables where we are at right now, " Osuch said.

Officer Osuch showed WCNC how easy it was to swab our test subject. The instructions mimic the way law enforcement would collect evidence.

"We'll collect it, bag it and mark it," he added.

Next, it was time to set our subject loose. 

What you can't see is that, like all people, the subject is dropping dead skin cells with each movement. With a 15 minute headstart, it didn't take our search dog named 'Bo' much time to pick up the scent using a sample from the kit. Within seconds, she was hot on the trail.

"Right now she's trying to re-acquire the scent and she's back on," Osuch said, describing Bo's search. "The weather and the wind play a huge role in tracking and trailing people. As we get closer she'll start pulling harder and want to go faster."

Bo's search took less than 10 minutes to find our subject.

Officer Osuch thinks the kits make sense for families with kids and the elderly with cognitive impairments. The Find'em Scent Safe kits are $20, and you can store your samples up to a year in a refrigerator or freezer.

"Having a positive valid scent article from the person we are actually looking for saves a lot of time," Osuch said.