Operation Save Christmas: AFP canines sniff out missing presents

The AFP’s canine unit, trained in world-leading technology detection, have taken a break from sniffing out items such as sim cards (often likened to being a needle in an evidentiary haystack) to help recover missing presents across Australia this Christmas eve.

Following a referral by a North Pole man, age unknown, the AFP launched a special operation – code named Operation Save Christmas – deploying specialist technology detector dogs to detect packages which allegedly went missing in the month of December from a red vehicle described as “sleigh like.”

The dedicated dogs and their handlers worked through the night to find the missing parcels which allegedly contain an assortment of technology-based toys, puzzles and games.

Detective Acting Superintendent Jon Horrocks said the success of Operation Save Christmas came down to the dogged determination and world-class training of the AFP National Canine Operations (NCO) team.

“Our dogs may not have Rudolph’s red nose but are exceptional at what they do. They are not only equipped with the skills and expertise to save Christmas – but throughout the year, also deploy their skills to sniff out evidence in a range of capacities for the AFP,” he said.

“Throughout 2023, the crack canine team deployed across the country to assist with search warrants and often found hidden evidence which would not otherwise have been recovered.

“Together with their passionate handlers, AFP canines work tirelessly to keep Australia safe and love what they do.

The AFP dogs start their training from 10 weeks of age through the AFP Puppy Development Program. On average, the dogs will have a working life of seven to nine years.

Once the dogs reach this age they are considered for retirement. Retired dogs are adopted out, generally to the current handler where they go on to live a relaxing retirement lifestyle full of belly scratches and head pats.

Detective Acting Superintendent Horrocks said our dogs have proven to be a highly-capable law enforcement tool and international studies have identified that we have only scratched the surface in what they can achieve with their incredibly heightened sense of smell.

“Dogs conducting detection work sniff between five to 10 times a second, inhaling with one nostril and exhaling through the other. Their smell processing capacity is 40 times stronger than humans, and studies have shown they can find a scent as faint as one part per million.

“Dogs have significant genetic abilities that far surpass any technology available on the market to date. It is critical that law enforcement continue to research and develop new concepts with our canine partners in crime fighting to ensure consistent evolution.”

The AFP uses canines to detect drugs, firearms, cash, explosives, deceased persons and blood, and digital technology such as USBs and SIM cards.

Between December 2022 and December 2023, across all specialties AFP dogs have helped police seize 6 firearms, over 12kg of illicit drugs and over $600,000 in cash, while locating more than 300 concealed electronic items.

The evidence they find is often well hidden, sometimes in walls, furniture or behind paneling, and could otherwise be missed in a search warrant. Using dogs and their keen sense of smell helps support the full range of AFP investigations.

AFP canines are deployed across Australia, including the nine major airports where the AFP has a policing presence.

/Public Release. View in full here.