Time progresses and many things in life may change but, for the most part, crime remains constant. Law enforcement agencies must pursue new and different ways to combat the crimes that plague their communities, and they must continually acquire new knowledge and skills to do so. With the advent of computers and the evolution of technology that has unfolded, over time, opportunities for more sophisticated means and methods of committing crimes have resulted. Consequently, law enforcement agencies must be cognizant of the need to implement specialized units with personnel trained and equipped to investigate and handle these new challenges that interface with various facets of crime through technological advances.
The Arlington County (Virginia) Police Department, on the outskirts of the nation's capitol, is one department that has done just that. The Computer Forensic Unit (CFU) was established approximately 12 years ago and serves as a support unit. It has played a critical role in solving diverse crimes. The unit is involved in the collection and analysis of digital media including computers, cell phones, digital cameras, digital storage devices, thumb-drives and other technological devices for evidence pertaining to a variety of cases. The unit has often worked cases that include stalking, homicides, suicides, child pornography, domestic violence and burglaries, among others. The unit is supervised by Sgt. Stuart Ellis and includes Detective Luis Ordonez, Detective Daniel Gillenwater, and Detective Darrel Taber.
As a support unit, the detectives often work in conjunction with other divisions in the department as well as detectives in the Special Victims Unit (SVU) who rely on them to obtain vital information they may need for their cases that are time sensitive. The CFU is also part of the U. S. Secret Service Task Force in the Washington D. C. Metropolitan region whose function is to assist respective agencies with the investigation of electronic crimes.
The detectives in the Arlington County Police Department CFU are highly skilled and well trained. For example, Detective Ordonez, a 15-year veteran of the police department with significant street experience, who has been in the unit for 2 ½ years, previously worked as an Electronics Technician for several private companies prior to beginning his career as a police officer. In his current position, he has acquired advanced training. From May - July 2008, Detective Ordonez attended the national Computer Forensics Institute in Hoover, Alabama. This training is a collaborative effort sponsored by the U. S. Secret Service that has a partnership with the National District Attorney's Association and the U. S. Department of Homeland Security to implement this cyber crimes training program for local and state law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges.
"It's a resource multiplier for us," says Michael Stenger, Assistant Director of the U. S. Secret Service. "We put 240 people through it last year and 280 this year," he says. Stenger explains that in addition to offering basic, intermediate, advanced, and refresher training, they also provide equipment to these professionals to utilize in their agencies.
"Having a well trained staff to do computer forensics is an investigative necessity in today's world. Every well staffed police department should be actively engaged in computer forensics. One of the challenges of staffing a CFU is the amount of training and equipment needed to keep the staff in a position to maintain pace with the evolution of changing technology," says Chief Douglas Scott of the Arlington County Police Department. "Chiefs and sheriffs need to carefully choose and screen potential members of a CFU that are willing to commit to this assignment for multiple years because of the extensive training and certifications needed to be successful in the position," he says.