As digital evidence trails grow, federal agencies provide equipment and classes for processing suspect devices
A month-long course and several pieces of new technical gear are giving Polk County new capabilities to help with a variety of investigations.
Polk County Police Det. B. Brady got back just a couple of weeks ago from a 30-day class he spent all of August in learning how to use a variety of new gear provided free to him by the Federal government, which also greatly expands the capabilities of looking into the technology used by suspects involved in criminal cases.
He's already been using the new gear in high profile local investigations, getting right back to work upon his return.
"A case in point is the dog case," Brady said. "I received several phones from that, and got search warrants for them and brought them back. Instead of having to take those phones and go through the GBI, or Carrollton, we can do it in house now."
These new capabilities come thanks to a program put together by the Department of Homeland Security, The United States Secret Service and the Alabama District Attorney's Association, who provided everything from upgraded storage and thumb drives to the gear Brady is now using to dig into the devices people use daily that suddenly become part of a criminal investigation.
"It was great training, and it was difficult," he said. "The biggest thing I can say is so long as you keep up with the licenses and show a need, and I think it's already showing. We've had 16 phones in a week since it's been up and running. And that's just from here."
Brady, who has already been trained as an investigator with the Georgia Internet Crimes against Children Task Force put together by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and a network of local law enforcement officers.
This added capability allows for Brady to get the free gear so long as he provides proof that he's using it for investigative purposes providing reports to the U.S. Secret Service and their statistics on computer-related crimes.
Essentially, the technology allows for him to gain access to digital devices after authorities have gone through the process of obtaining search warrants, and keeping the information he obtains secure from anyone who might want to try to gain access.
For instance, with a faraday box that the federal government provided, Brady can look through a window on top of the box and use special gloves allowing him to still use touch screens, but won't allow any radio signals in and out of the box that could be used to access a phone he's working on.
The other new gear make accessing suspects digital devices easier, and with other items like soldering irons he can use in altering devices if necessary to gain access.
Brady can't just plug in a phone as soon as it comes into the hands of police officers. Like homes and cars, phones, computers, tablets and all the other interconnected devices that can now be part of the evidence chain requires search warrants for access, and thus specific reasons for law enforcement to want to look.
When those search warrants came in before Brady's training, local law enforcement had to send those devices along to the GBI for their technical experts to do all the forensic work on, and receive all the data back with a report listing what was accessed and found.
Locally, Brady could get basically a preview of what was on a device with what the GBI provided him with in past training. The upgrades allow him and other law enforcement officers locally more direct access to digital evidence, and thus less wait time on what can be critical cases.
"Now we essentially have all the tools they have, and in some cases like this one (a device used to scan smart phones called a Cellebrite,) it's newer," Brady said.
And it's not just for use by the Polk County Police Department. Brady said local law enforcement from Cedartown, Rockmart, Aragon and even Floyd County will be bringing him phones and other devices in the future to help gain access.
Because of the equipment's ease of use an automated nature, Brady said the gear provided by the federal government does all of the hard work, including the creation of reports on what was found on the devices, drastically reducing the time he has to spend doing the forensic work.
His hopes are that in the future with technology taking an even greater role in criminal investigations locally, investment in more gear and training for other officers will come as well.
"It's always beneficial, because you have to think that I'm just one person. And all of this is available not just for Polk County, but for Rockmart, Cedartown or Floyd County," he said. "That's the whole agreement with the Secret Service. If they (a neighboring agency) calls in and says 'I have a case, I'm going to send you five phones. I need you to dump them for me.' I'm not going to go through, and if it was my case, I'll go more in depth to say I need to see this, this and this, because I'm the investigator. But if it's your case, and you're sending it to me, I'm going to give you the information because I have the tools, and I'm going to package it up, and ship it back off to them. That's kind of the knock off...."
He said that if more officers were trained, the potential to process evidence with additional speed would be beneficial, keeping others from having to wait for information can lead to solving crimes faster in an age when criminals are taking advantage of the ever-changing landscape of communications technology.
"I could sit in here with the ones (phones) I have now and sit here and do a week's worth of work," Brady said.