A port city just like Marseille, but less riddled with crime, Rotterdam is nonetheless equipping itself with an unlikely new unit to fight illegal activity. Forensic police plan to use five big brown rats to shed light on criminal plots.
After two years of training that will soon end, Derrick, Magnum, Poirot, Dupond and Dupont — all named after famous detectives — should prove able trackers thanks to their impressive olfactory skills that surpass those of a dog. This rat dream team will start work next year in the Dutch city. Drugs, money, explosives, bodies, blood — these rodents have shown a hitherto unsuspected capacity for differentiating between odors. Rats have 1,500 olfactory genes, compared to the 1,100 of dogs and the 650 of humans.
Above and beyond their natural talent for sniffing out smells, rats also appear to be more reliable than German Shepherds. Much less sensitive to emotional bonds, a rat is not influenced by a human’s attitude or sideways glance. Furthermore, some criminal cases in the Netherlands have highlighted errors dogs made when identifying suspects who had used weapons.
Rats also make financial sense. The initial cost of buying the animal is lower, of course, but training the rodents is also much quicker. The logistics of transporting these little animals, which are about the size as a large hamster, are simpler, and their food and veterinary costs are significantly less expensive than those for dogs.
This project has been made possible thanks to the tenacity of a police civil servant in Rotterdam’s forensics department. She began investigating the possibility of using rats after seeing their prowess in Cambodian and African fields, where they are used to detect mines.
But the Netherlands is not the only place interested in exploiting the talent of rodents. In Israel, the border agency and police have also tested the use of mice as a means of detecting explosives and narcotics. According to a policeman, a rat can easily detect the smell of powder in the air after a shooting. But despite all the benefits, Derrick, Magnum, Poirot, Dupont and Dupond will be mainly limited to sniffing missions within police stations. Investigations at the crime scene are not suitable for rodents, who loathe venturing into new terrain.