Technological advances have led to a paradigm shift in the criminal justice field. Cell phones and social media have altered the ways people interact with one another, prompting cyber investigations into criminal offenders who leave a trail of digital evidence in their wake. IPS grantees are utilizing data extraction devices to collect and analyze this information more efficiently, with the aim of identifying suspects and building cases more quickly than ever before.
Prosecutors and law enforcement are also using technology to enhance information-sharing within and between agencies. Tools such as mobile applications and arrest alert systems can help close gaps in communication, enabling practitioners to focus resources on priority offenders while ensuring the safety and well-being of the public.
DIGITAL EVIDENCE & DATA EXTRACTION
Some IPS grantees are testing on-site cell phone data extraction to investigate opioid-related deaths. IPS teams in Memphis, TN and New Orleans, LA are purchasing field-capable Cellebrite Universal Forensic Extraction Devices (UFED), which detectives will use at the scene of a drug overdose to quickly extract data from cell phones.
Because on-scene data extraction takes only 20 minutes to an hour, these two IPS teams aim to retrieve crucial evidence and investigatory leads — such as the identity of individuals who deliver the drugs resulting in overdose — much more quickly than with stationary extraction technology, which is not on-scene. The tool will also help law enforcement gather digital evidence from social media and cloud-based platforms that might not be stored on the mobile phones themselves. By tracing fatal overdoses to drug traffickers and manufacturers, the Memphis and New Orleans teams aim to stem the flow of dangerous opioids through their jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, in Denver, CO, a multidisciplinary team is utilizing UFED to enhance the investigation and prosecution of gang-related crime. Gang violence — including homicides, assaults, robberies, and weapons offenses — is often difficult to investigate and prosecute due to widespread intimidation of victims and witnesses. Since witnesses are often fearful of participating in criminal justice processes, practitioners must rely on nontraditional means to investigate these cases.
The Denver DA’s Office is also spearheading a Digital Evidence Task Force, which will rely on cell phone and social media data to hold violent offenders accountable. This evidence can provide key insight into a suspect’s intent, location, and relationship with other suspects. Investigations will be supplemented by the expertise of digital forensics personnel at VTO Labs and prosecutors with experience admitting and presenting digital evidence in court.
Newark, NJ is also utilizing social media to investigate gang-related crime. The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office (ECPO) created a Special Prosecution Unit (SPU), which systematically reviews cases for social media evidence that could provide investigatory leads into violent offenses. In some cases, social media review helps confirm offender identities — putting a name on a suspect previously only known by their appearance or nickname. SPU also utilizes the evidence to argue for pre-trial detention, make charging decisions, and strengthen the prosecution of offenders — particularly for cases in which witnesses are unable or unwilling to participate in the criminal justice system.
Two sites are testing arrest alert systems to maintain consistent focus on the most violent offenders. In Jacksonville, FL, the Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office (SAO) is developing an alert system to ensure that repeat offenders who come in contact with law enforcement are appropriately prosecuted—and not released back into the community due simply to a lack of communication between police districts and the prosecutor’s office.
A prosecutor-led team in Chicago, IL, has already built a system to address their high crime drivers. They synthesized robust datasets from defendants to identify the most prolific offenders and customized an alert system to immediately notify Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office staff whenever these individuals are arrested. The technology has been helping prosecutors make more informed decisions about bail, charges, pleas, and sentences. It has also focused more intense scrutiny and more resources on the small number of offenders driving crime in Chicago.
Other jurisdictions are using technology to enhance intra- and inter-agency communication. In Flint, MI, the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office (GCPO) and the Flint Police Department have invested in StreetSmart technology to share crime bulletins, which will alert officers instantly about new information and issues in the field. At the same time, GCPO’s Crime Strategies Unit will be able to convert the incoming information into usable criminal intelligence — such as crime maps and searchable databases — to help law enforcement find links between cases that might otherwise go undetected.
In Long Beach, CA, the City Prosecutor’s Office is building its own mobile application, the Government User Integrated Diversion Enhancement System (GUIDES), to expedite communication between law enforcement partners and other city agencies. This tool will help officers with both enforcement and intervention by giving them instant access to up-to-date case information (stay away court orders, gang affiliations, histories of substance abuse or homelessness) about the individuals they encounter on patrol. With this data literally at their fingertips, officers will be better able to understand — and make decisions about — the services needed by a particular individual. Overall, the team believes that real-time data sharing among city departments will help police act more efficiently on crucial information and build community trust.