Homicide. Child pornography. Trafficking in human beings. Fraud. Terrorism.
The list of crimes is long, but one thing ties them all together – somehow it is likely that the perpetrator used some sort of digital media in breaking the law. While TV shows and movies make digital forensics seem commonplace, in reality many local law enforcement offices lack the capacity, a challenge Rocket City has not been exempted from – until now.
The Redstone team celebrated the grand opening of the new Tennessee Valley Regional Computational Forensics Lab on May 2. The 17th of its kind across the country, the lab is the first in the Southeast and the only one located on a military installation.
“Any type of crime where you imagine that a digital media device, be it a smartphone, tablet, laptop or computer, is being used to facilitate the commission of this crime. crime, we can now bring it here to the Tennessee Valley RCFL, ”said FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, who is in charge of the Birmingham Division of the FBI, which oversees the lab.
Part of a nationwide network of digital forensic labs, TVRCFL is a partnership between the FBI and the Huntsville Police Department, Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Alabama National Guard Drug Program and the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, all of whom have signed memoranda of understanding to join the TVRCFL and provide staff. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama is a partner of the prosecution agency. Full-service digital forensics lab installation, equipment, and training are provided by the FBI; law enforcement agencies pay salaries and benefits to their laboratory staff.
“With the advent of technology becoming more and more complex, more and more of our criminals are using sophisticated technology every day,” said Sharp. “What we generally find is that our national and local partners lack the technical capabilities to perform digital forensic analysis of these types of devices. It is imperative to have partnerships like these, that we bring together subject matter expertise as a force multiplier, so that when our participating agencies, and even agencies that are not members of RCFL, have a specific need regarding a case that they have, they can bring it here and get the technical expertise they need to leverage digital media evidence that can help them resolve the particular case.
Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray echoed the sentiment.
“The technology is just sweeping us away and we are struggling to keep up with it. It’s the same problem across the country, every police department has the same problem. It puts us in front of the problem instead of trying to catch it, ”said McMurray.
The cost of training and certifying officers, coupled with the cost of the equipment needed to analyze digital media, often prevents local law enforcement agencies from having the ability to thoroughly review digital evidence. . Being part of the TVRCFL helps alleviate this burden.
“For us to be able to get the amount of training and equipment that was provided to our assistant who is posted here, it would have been things that we just couldn’t afford, but we needed that expertise,” Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning said.
One such piece of equipment is the iVe Mobile, a vehicle systems investigation tool, which shows how digital media can help put criminals behind bars. Lab director Todd Spiker shared the case of a husband suspected of murdering his wife. Cell phone records indicate that he never left the house the night she was murdered, but his vehicle indicated otherwise. With the help of iVe Mobile, investigators were able to determine that on the night the wife was killed, two of the husband’s car doors were opened and closed, two seat belts buckled, two car doors again. opened and closed, and after 30 to 40 minutes only one car door was opened and closed, and a seat belt buckled, before the vehicle returned to the couple’s home. The vehicle’s global positioning system located where the car had stopped and went from two passengers to one, leading investigators to the woman’s shallow grave.
More than 5,000 law enforcement agencies in 21 states have access to a RCFL. Currently housed in a trailer, the TVRCFL is expected to move to a brick and mortar location on the facility within three to five years.
“Huntsville is a natural fit,” said Sharp. “If you look at the technology, the cyberbase here, it was only natural that we were here. Coupled with the relationship the FBI has with the Redstone Army and Arsenal, it was a divine marriage. They don’t lightly call Huntsville the “Silicon Valley of the South”. Because of this, it made sense that if you were to have an RCFL in the Southeast, it would logically be placed in Huntsville, especially Redstone Arsenal. “