How 'Scent Detection' Kits Could Speed Up Missing Persons Investigations

May 2, 2019

Officers assigned to missing persons cases often aren’t given the best resources for their search and rescue dogs to trail the lost or kidnapped person, but a new kit could change that.

Find’em Scent Safe is a precautionary tool to collect someone's untainted scent and store it in the event that person goes missing. The kit’s inventor, police Captain Coby Webb, is a K-9 handler and recognized court expert in scent evidence. She says most people panic when their loved one disappears; they struggle to find a good sample, and even if they think they've identified something, it's often contaminated by the scent of others nearby.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea sits folded around recording equipment at a Joe Biden campaign rally in Pittsburgh on Monday, April 29, 2019.
Credit Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

The kit, which costs $19.99 online, includes instructions for collecting and storing the scent profile. Webb says it mirrors the way law enforcement would collect evidence to track crime suspects and could be especially useful for hikers, as well as parents or caregivers of young children, those on the autism spectrum or people with dementia. 

About 610,000 Americans were reported missing in 2018, according to the National Crime Information Center, and three out of four of those cases involved people under the age of 21.

“It could happen to anybody at any time,” she says.

Webb tells The Confluence's Kiley Koscinski that she developed the kit hoping to put scent-collection resources of law enforcement into the hands of the public.

Elsewhere in the program:

NPR's Don Gonyea has covered the auto industry, big labor and the White House during his 33-year career, and he brings a unique perspective to his latest role as national political correspondent. He joins The Confluence's Megan Harris to talk about his background, how political coverage--and journalism--have evolved and what he expects from the 2020 Presidential contests. Gonyea will be featured at the Media Innovators Speaker Series on Thursday, May 9 at Point Park University.

Almost 40 years ago, the federal government almost enacted carbon limits that could have radically shifted the conversation about climate change. For the Allegheny Front, Reid Frazier spoke to Nathaniel Rich, author of “Losing Earth,” about the history of climate change policy in the United States.

An estimated 40,000 people will participate in the 2019 Pittsburgh Marathon this weekend. As part of a series on local participants, hear from Nicole Holderfield, a 36-year-old, full-time working mother of two daughters from North Huntington. In 2016, she set out to lose weight so she could be more active in her daughter's life. Two years and one new baby later, she's lost 125 pounds and will run the half marathon this Sunday. 

And Kennywood Park may not be the largest or fastest, but it's long been a beloved staple for generations of Pittsburghers. For 90.5 WESA's Good Question series, Katie Blackely reports on the park's history and attractions. 

90.5 WESA's Julia Zenkevich and Meg Fair contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.