Waste Not, Want Not
Wise use of one’s resources will keep one from poverty.
One of our favorite things that we get to do here is assist Law Enforcement with cases. It is really rewarding when we can help them solve a case, find a suspect and make an arrest. We want to help and we know we can, quickly and cost-effectively. However, on a daily basis, we speak with Sergeants, District Attorneys, Chief of Police, Chief Deputies, and Sheriffs and the most common theme is that “we don’t have enough money”. Budgets are continually getting slashed and law enforcement entities are expected to do more with less. Criminals and the rest of society are embracing the digital age with the use of different storage media like computers, phones, and tablets. These devices hold plans, conspirators, discussions, and actual evidence (pictures, accounts, etc..). The digital age is forcing law enforcement to not only consider DNA and latent prints when they come up on a crime scene but also requires them to collect cell phones, computers, and DVR’s. This alone places most, if not all, law enforcement entities in a bind because they would like to process this information before the case goes cold; however, resources are slim. In order to accomplish this problem, most law enforcement entities look within instead of looking for outside help.
The most common scenario we have ran across:
Chief: Jim is a great street COP and I know he loves computers. Why don’t we send Jim to training and he can be our computer expert?
Jim: So I get to take a two week training, I get a promotion, a raise, and I get off the street? Sure, I am your man.
Jim comes back from training and has a laundry list of required tools and additional training.
Jim: Chief, I am going to need approximately $20,000 in equipment and software to get started.
Chief: I am sorry Jim you will have to wait until the next budget request. I am spent.
Jim: I will go and see if I can find grant money, which takes an excessive amount of time, paperwork, and energy.
Chief: Great idea; however, I really could use your help in other areas of the department.
In the meantime, the Chief’s decision to move Jim has required him to hire another Police Officer to fill in Jim’s space, which cost the department additional uniforms, training, salary, and benefits. Jim has found a small amount of money to assist him get started with providing his first analysis. The detective hands Jim a phone; however, Jim has not had training with analyzing phones so he will be required to send it out to the State Lab. The State Lab is overburden with digital devices to process and is suggesting a turnaround time of 18 to 24 months.
Detective: My case is going cold and I need a faster turnaround time.
Jim: Chief, I found a solution that will process phones with a click of a button the only problem is it will cost us $10,000 the first year and $6,000 for every year after as a licensing fee.
Chief: Ok let’s buy it and we will charge other departments to use it.
Jim becomes familiar with the solution to process phones by attending a course that cost the department another $6,000. Jim begins processing phones and requests that the phone they sent to the State lab be sent back so he is able to perform the analysis. Jim spits out the report to the Detective, but the report is limited. Jim explains that he would need additional training to perform any type of carving of deleted information. In the meantime, the Department is aware of the new abilities of Jim and has begun to continually collect digital media. Jim finds himself overwhelmed with cases involving Child Pornography and has little time to keep up with the latest technology and processes.
Jim is called to testify in court. This would be the first time Jim has testified in court in regards to Digital Evidence. The Defendant’s Attorney simply asks, “how is the data allocated and how would you explain what your tools do to get to your conclusion?”
Jim fully understands how to use the specific software and has even received certifications; however, his lack of understanding with the allocation of data, FAT tables, and unallocated space is working to the Defendant’s benefit. The Defendant’s expert was able to explain to the jury a better understanding of what evidence proceeded and how it may have gotten on the device, which won the case for the “guilty” Defendant.
The budget season is getting close at hand and Jim knows that the yearly license fees are coming up and the requirement to purchase new equipment is necessary. However, his own turnaround time is longer than nine months to turnaround a case.
Jim: Chief, I am going to need to hire additional Digital Examiners to keep up with the case load.
Chief: If you can justify the need by comparing your caseloads to other digital labs than I will consider it.
Jim does what his Chief did and looks within the Department for additional help and then the process repeats itself.
Throughout Jim’s tenure he has accrued a large amount of training and certifications. A private laboratory offers Jim a job, but with better pay and opportunities of better cases like IP Theft or Embezzlement rather than Child Pornography. Jim quits the Department before additional assistance is hired and the Department has to start all over again wasting taxpayer money.
This common scenario continually depletes law enforcement from the resources the department needs the most and the scenario proves to not be very effective. Digital evidence is like DNA back in the 1980’s. Outsourcing is proving to be more cost-effective, faster, and has additional capabilities to handle a broader array service rather than do it in-house.
So why do not all law enforcement entities outsource digital evidence?
It cost departments a lot of money in continual training, equipment, salary, benefits, and liability to only have their experts leave for the private side. It is my understanding speaking with two different departments that it costs a department approximately $250,000 for each officer in digital forensics and this includes the salary, benefits, vacation, car, training, equipment, and yearly software licenses. Scalability is another problem because one officer can only process so many cases per week.
A department that outsources digital forensics could save $150,000 each year and process up to three times the amount of cases per week with limited liability. To not outsource and continue to hear that law enforcement entities have a lack of financial resources is very disheartening. Law enforcement is a required large system that is difficult to move in a turbulent discipline of digital forensics. Where and how data is stored is constantly changing. Private laboratories are nimbler to adapt and scalable in order to keep up with the constant change.
Flashback Data was the first private digital laboratory to achieve the American Society of Criminal Laboratories International accreditation (ISO17025:2017) under the discipline of digital and multimedia evidence, which is the same accreditation held by the FBI RCFL’s and some State Laboratories. This accrediting body creates a culture of continual improvement for the laboratory. The majority of law enforcement entities that provide digital examination internally are not ASCLD Internationally accredited, which leaves large holes for defense to use against them. This may involve a chain of custody, evidence retention, examination processes, personnel training, equipment validation, and the assurance of a third party to evaluate if they are meeting the best standards.
The White House released its findings in 2015 that will suggest that all digital evidence be processed through an accredited crime lab, much like DNA. Flashback Data is the first private laboratory to work on consistently improve processes and policies, but we are for sure not the last. It will be required that the shift of Law Enforcement entities providing digital forensics internally to outsourcing will need to be intensified in order to keep up with the demand of processing digital media involved in either civil or criminal cases. In order for that to happen Law Enforcement entities will have to start looking outward for solutions.