The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office Is Positioning Investigators for Digital Evidence Success
Investigators at the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office in Yorktown, Virginia, are committed to reducing crime and serving the needs of citizens. The organization’s mission – providing quality and efficient law enforcement services to the community, and maintaining public trust through professionalism and accountability – is tied closely to the development of innovative services.
The office’s Crime Prevention Unit creates crime-prevention videos and neighborhood watch programs to engage with community members. The unit also runs a Citizens Academy for Youth, which educates teenagers on the functions of the sheriff’s department.
To fight crime – everything from larcenies, to homicides, to child exploitation – investigators are also focused on how to equip themselves to manage the digital evidence that is so crucial to solving crimes and keeping citizens safe. The growing data storage capabilities of mobile devices and the challenges of controlling access to data can be barriers to success for all sheriff’s offices.
“All of the super-strong filtering, sorting, and date-adjustment tools make our lives easier, and reduce our time to get to the evidence that we need.”
The York-Poquoson investigative team is making plans to ensure that officers can handle this massive influx of data, using modern Digital Intelligence solutions. Investigators in the sheriff’s office know the future requires ever more sophisticated solutions for collecting, managing, and analyzing digital evidence. (Digital Intelligence is the data collected and preserved from digital sources and data types – such as smartphones, computers, and the Cloud – and the process by which agencies collect, review, analyze, manage, and obtain insights from this data to run their investigations more efficiently.)
Handling the Digital Data Explosion
The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office serves York County, near Newport News, Virginia, with a population of about 65,000 people. Crimes run the gamut, explains Phillip Duong, a senior investigator for the department. “We work everything, big and small, that comes in,” says Duong. “Right now, my team’s working on a triple shooting from two days ago. We had a homicide the week before that. So we get pulled in a bunch of different directions.”
The biggest challenge today in fighting this range of crimes, says Robert Blinco, supervisor of the sheriff’s office’s Investigative Division, is the volume of data that’s harvested from cell phones. “It’s chewing through our storage,” he says. “The challenge becomes finding that needle in the haystack within terabytes of data.” To meet this challenge, Blinco and his team are incorporating a number of Digital Intelligence solutions that will help manage and store data more effectively.
The team is also working to up its game in terms of data access. Investigators currently use Cellebrite’s Collect and Review solutions UFED 4PC, UFED Physical Analyzer, and UFED Cloud, but the long-term goal is to add more technology to streamline the process of collecting, managing, and sharing findings. “We only have one workstation at the moment, so that’s part of our efficiency issue,” Blinco says. There are also many steps involved in creating, storing, and exporting reports. This has led to investigators seeking out more robust case management solutions for the future.
Finding the Truth Within Digital Evidence
As the sheriff’s office plans to improve the efficiency and capabilities of its digital forensics lab in the future, investigators are also focused on using their digital intelligence solutions to close cases. “All of the super-strong filtering, sorting, and date-adjustment tools make our lives easier and reduce our time to get to the evidence that we need,” Blinco says. “It also does a really good job of painting pictures for our prosecutors so we can keep them in the loop.”
Duong finds value in Digital Intelligence’s ability to expose gaps in suspects’ or witnesses’ stories – shortening the time needed to uncover the truth.
“Someone may be skewing a story in order to leverage an outcome that they want to see,” Duong explains. “Whereas before, we were chasing down four, five, even 10 people at a time to corroborate these stories, we can get into their phones immediately with their cooperation and refute what they’ve said. It can expedite the process in some of these cases. I can exonerate someone who’s wrongly accused and close that case immediately, versus having it hanging over our heads.”
In the aftermath of a recent shooting, the York-Poquoson investigators were able to take advantage of their digital solutions’ warrant return processing capability, which takes mountains of difficult-to-read PDFs and spreadsheets and formats, and presents them in an easy-to-read, chronological layout.
“We did not have a physical device in our hands,” Duong says. “We were able to get a backup from a cloud provider, and with our Digital Intelligence solutions, we could parse out the data in a logical manner. Then we were able to distribute it to our team members and say, ‘We’re looking for anything in this date range – please find it.’
The information that we needed was really easy and quick to find, and it became the basis of our investigation and helped us resolve the case – whereas, without that cloud backup, we would have been hamstrung.”
Collaboration Is the Future of Crimefighting
In an ideal world, the York-Poquoson investigators would hope to solve every case this way, with Digital Intelligence solutions doing the heavy lifting of parsing data. This is, in fact, the future that investigators are planning.
“The biggest thing we’re going to have to do better as law enforcement is aggregating all of our information,” Blinco says. “We often have pieces of the puzzle, but we don’t know how they fit together.”
Part of meeting this challenge, Blinco says, is using technology to enable more collaboration across agencies. The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office already engages in this kind of data-sharing whenever it can. “We really try to bend over backwards to help those in our immediate region, because we have the capability, we have the people willing to do it, and we have the funding,” he says. “Our Chief Deputy is great when it comes to leveraging our technology to our advantage.”
This collaboration, Blinco says, is key to keeping communities safe, and bringing criminals to justice.
“We need to combine information before we search for answers,” Blinco explains. “I might know Joe Smith’s identity in a phone extraction, but my neighboring jurisdiction is looking for him, and has no idea who he is or how he ties in. I think we all have individual pieces to the puzzle, but we need everyone to be looking at the one complete picture.”
To obtain this complete picture, Blinco and his team plan to rely on Digital Intelligence solutions to access, analyze, and manage data in more streamlined workflows. In this way, they’ll be able to close cases more effectively and efficiently – expediting time to evidence, increasing case closure rates, and keeping citizens safe.