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Electronic Crime Scene Investigations

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Electronic Crime Scene Investigations


A review by Detective Neil Murray, Inglewood Police Department


The Twenty First Century has officially arrived.  Along with it, all of the technical advances that have made our life more pleasurable, easy, exciting, unpredictable and yes, informed.  Just as the Twentieth Century brought us huge industrial advances and changed the life for mankind forever, this century has brought strides that few would have predicted fifty years ago.  We are truly on the brink of providing a basis by which technology will propel us into a period of prosperity that is unlike any other.

These advances have been seen in every facet of our lives.  From transportation to construction, from manufacturing to agriculture and from industry to communications, our lives have been certainly changed for the better.  The basis for all of this of course is the computer. 

The channel and focus of all of these advances is our ability to communicate with one another in more proficient, expeditious, varied and cost efficient manner.  The computer and computer chip has been the catapult for these vast and profound changes.  The future is absolutely beaming with possibilities with expectation of greater things to come.  The world that my grand children live will be greatly improved from the one that now exists.  The computer will be at the forefront of those compelling changes.  With all the wonderful things that science and technology have brought to our civilization, ferreting out the criminal mind and the desire to engage in criminal acts has not taken place.  More so than ever before the crooks have seized the opportunity that the aforementioned advances have created.  As usual, criminals have turned a positive advantage into an opportunity to prey upon society and make it victims.

When I attended the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Academy some twenty four years ago, the wide use of the computer in law enforcement was in its infant stage.  Trainees were not tutored in the nomenclature of computers. Nor were we provided with any idea of what was to come, in regards to the impact computers would make on our lives and the work we were training to engage in.  We were provided with the basics such as crime scene investigation, protecting the crime scene, securing evidence and the preservation of the same.  We were told how to collect evidence, and when the need existed, transport it and make it available for courtroom presentation.  We were told that in various types of crimes there were certain types of evidence that would no doubt exist. And it had to seized and subsequently analyzed. Proper analysis of certain items at crime scenes would certainly reveal their respective evidentiary value.

Preliminary crime scene investigation was but one of the many things taught at the academy.  As indicated, times have changed and the need for cops to become smarter is here.  With the advances of the computer and the fact that criminals are now more sophisticated, this need for law enforcement to update their tactics to keep up with the crooks is paramount.   Becoming savvy about the computer and the different types of crimes that criminals are committing with them, is a responsibility of those of us who are engaged in front line police work.

The information contained in Electronic Crime Scene Investigation-A Guide for First Responders (available free of charge and downloadable from the Department of Justice) helps line cops do just that.  Step by step it explains the basic workings of the computer and provides the names of the various parts that make it work.  It does not try to go into the technical aspects of this medium, but keeps it simple for the layman to understand.  Not only does it talk about just computers, but really as the title suggests, anything that deals with electronic communication.  Criminals are certainly using pagers, cell phones, cordless phones, answering machines, digital cameras and the like to commit there criminal acts.  Clearly the whole range of electronic communication and information storing, has got to be looked at by law enforcement as a method that can be used by criminals, to exploit as a tool to victimize.

The book explains and identifies the various parts of the computer that should be identified by law enforcement as possible evidence of various electronic criminal acts.  The Central Processing Unit, keyboard, mouse and monitor are but a few of the main components of the computer that must be identified by law enforcement officers when engaged in the preliminary investigation of electronic crime.  Modems, speakers, fax machines and printers are also additional pieces of equipment that must be identified.  The fact that most of these electronic devices have the ability to store information must be part of the knowledge that the preliminary crime scene responder possesses.  How to access that information has got to be one of the most important aspects of the investigation.  Moreover, knowing that you do not have the expertise to access the information is critical.

The first responder should know who the local experts are. They can be called upon to assist in removing information that is critical evidence of electronic crime.  Knowing your limitations obviously is important in this regard to electronic crime scene investigation. The book additionally talks about seizing evidence and the equipment needed to do that.  Caution must be exercised when dealing with large private networks as violations of Federal Law could occur.  Again, a smart first responder would have the ability to obtain assistance from professionals.  Disconnecting systems and how that should be done is talked about as well as the need for search warrants. That of course is one of the very first things an investigator might want to do.  The book goes on to talk about packaging the electronic equipment for transport to a secure facility and the need to avoid exposing certain items to magnetic environments.  This includes the storage of said items for the inevitable presentation in court.  An excellent overview of what must be done for first responders to secure convictions of electronic device criminals.


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