New technology that provides a “force multiplier” is solving cases faster and easier.

Police in Mobile, Alabama had a problem. A small-time thief was stealing cars and ATVs, prompting growing concerns from residents. After a short investigation, the Mobile Police arrested an individual connected with the thefts. During the arrest, officers recovered two cell phones—one was in the arrested suspect’s vehicle and the other was in his pocket. Little did arresting officers know at the time that those two phones would eventually help them solve two murders.

The arresting officers brought the two phones to the Gulf Coast Technology Center (GCTC), which is an extension of the City of Mobile Police Department, for examination.

Kevin Levy, Commander of the Mobile Police Department’s Cyber Division, heads up GCTC. At the time, one of the phone examiners under his command happened to be from the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office. When they looked at GCTC’s collaboration cloud screen, the examiner noticed that some of the information from the car thief’s phone was eerily familiar to a case they were working in Baldwin County.

The examiner asked if he could take the phones, do an exam, and run them through Cellebrite Pathfinder. When he did so, he realized that the cases he had been working on in Baldwin County were potentially related. He got the phones from the Baldwin County case and added those two or three cell phones to the case.

Now investigators had about five phones in evidence, which was building toward a master conspiracy involving the same players. The examiner then compared the contact lists in the two cases and quickly realized that these people knew each other, so he began adding geo-points to the investigation.

What started out as a car-theft ring morphed into a vehicle-theft ring, which eventually lead investigators to a firearms-theft ring. The firearms-theft ring then led them to a firearms-distribution ring that sold illegal weapons on the street. Guns connected to the distribution ring then lead to two active cases of homicide.

According to Commander Levy, “All of that happened within about three weeks. The one homicide case had been open for almost a year, and it was one of our partner’s cases. The other homicide case was a local case here [in Mobile], and potentially—this part is yet to be determined, they’re still working part of it—might potentially involve some occupied-dwelling shootings. Drive-by shootings, where nobody was actually killed, wouldn’t get filed under homicides because nobody died, but we believe one of the suspects might potentially be related.”

Lots of old-fashioned detective work came into play here, but investigators would have never known where the guns came from had they not seized the phones from the small-time car thief. Most importantly, all of the cases leading up to the two active homicides would have been impossible to connect without the power of Digital Intelligence and analytics.

Crime Waits for No Man

Few investigators today would not agree that advances in technology are changing the nature of crimes, making it harder for law enforcement to protect citizens than ever before. Several factors are driving this:

  1. The rise in digital evidence and growing caseloads are putting new strains on agencies that are already resource-strapped in the wake of the pandemic, which prompted a wave of retirements.

  2. High-visibility cases, where actions by a few bad actors have tarnished the reputations of thousands of dedicated officers, have placed law enforcement under increased levels of public scrutiny. Many are taking a far more hands-off attitude to policing, lest their actions be misconstrued on social media, while others have sought safer havens in the private sector.

  3. Criminals are becoming far more tech-savvy, so it’s easier for them to hide their tracks in the maze of the digital landscape.
A growing number of factors is making cases harder to solve than ever before. To keep cases moving, investigators must make forced choices, which can lead to key evidence being missed. Source: Cellebrite

The negative impacts on agencies are quickly apparent:

  • Clearance rates suffer
  • The skills gap between agency staff and tech-confident criminals widens
  • Increased workloads heaped on fewer officers leads to burnout
  • Morale suffers and attrition rates climb among qualified staff members
  • Public trust in the police falls

This perfect storm of factors has caused a widening public-safety gap where agencies that lack the technology and technically trained personnel are in a game of constant catch-up with tech-savvy criminals and the rising tide of information.

The rapid rise in digital evidence is just one of the many variables that are leading to a growing public safety gap where agencies are constantly scrambling to keep up with the rise in more sophisticated crimes. Source: Cellebrite

Until now, these negative impacts drove many investigators to make “forced choices,” meaning investigators would move cases forward without fully processing all the information at their disposal. This kept cases moving, but it also opened the door to valuable information potentially being missed. As seen in the GCTC case, perceptive officers armed with the right tools and training often make amazing connections to solve cases, but with growing caseloads, even the quickest minds can’t always connect every set of dots.

Fortunately, all of this is now changing.

Police budgets are no longer in decline and forward-thinking agency heads are investing in the digital transformation of their departments both from a digital solution and an investigative culture standpoint. Here’s how progressive managers are making the two sides of this success equation work.

Transforming the Workflow

Rather than plug-in temporary fixes, smart managers are beginning to look holistically across the entire workflow to make investigations more efficient and effective. Many are seeking a single end-to-end solution that tracks evidence from the time data is collected to the day it’s presented in court. Streamlining the investigative process this way also better aligns key stakeholders across the entire workflow.

In their search for the right end-to-end solution, here are some points managers are considering:

  • The solution needs to be compatible with the existing infrastructure, data, and systems.

  • The platform needs to be flexible and deployable on-premises, in the Cloud, or in a hybrid environment.

  • The solution should make cross-department collaboration easy, creating an efficiency-boosting “force multiplier” that enables teams to do far more with fewer members.

  • To assuage privacy and accountability concerns from the public, anything done inside the Digital Intelligence solution should be ethical, secure, and protective of citizens’ data privacy.

Turning Forced Choices Into Force Multipliers

Cellebrite’s Digital Intelligence Solution Suite helps eliminate forced choices in the investigative process by delivering a force multiplier that modernizes an agency’s investigative workflow while transforming the investigative culture to tackle challenges head-on.

Cellebrite’s Digital Intelligence Solution Suite provides a force multiplier that positively impacts every stakeholder in the investigative workflow by making their jobs more efficient and effective. Source: Cellebrite

Once implemented, Cellebrite’s Solution Suite allows agency leaders to better protect citizens and make communities safer. It also enables key stakeholders across the entire workflow to move from having to make forced choices that may leave investigations incomplete to force multipliers that make their jobs easier and solve cases faster.

Transforming the workflow is Step 1, but managers also need to consider how their investigative culture must evolve to keep pace in the new era of digital investigations.

Transforming the Culture

The following areas of focus will boost morale and improve retention rates of qualified, highly invested in personnel. Transforming agency culture also provides an excellent talking point for managers to mention at community gatherings and city council meetings to help restore public trust.

  • Training: Creating an atmosphere that encourages employees to grow their skills is a strong morale booster and a smart way to retain and attract better talent. Providing teams with both on-site and remote training and services as part of an ongoing practice of self-improvement will instill deep loyalty within your organization.

  • Services: Helping teams stay abreast of the latest technologies can raise their effectiveness to an even higher level. And funding Advanced Services to help supplement your workforce and provide assistance on your toughest cases will help take the pressure off of key players.

  • Value realization: Optimizing your investigative processes and information sharing can help build your agency’s reputation. And improving overall employee satisfaction with agency-wide standardization and proven success can lead to higher retention rates of qualified employees who feel they are being invested in. Retaining and improving the skills of key team members to better serve the community is another plus managers can point to when addressing the public about how their agency is improving citizen safety.

Studies in Success

Strategies and best practices for transforming workflows and cultures are great, but what really counts is success. At Cellebrite, we’ve seen example after example of how agencies of every stripe are successfully solving complex crimes thanks to the right Digital Intelligence solutions.

Corrections: Contraband cell phones played a major role in the 2018 Lee Correctional riot that left seven inmates dead and 17 more badly injured. Steps that the South Carolina Department of Corrections has taken in the aftermath of the incident provide a powerful case study on how correctional institutions are transforming the way they handle security. Collecting, managing, and analyzing digital evidence collected from contraband phones is proving an invaluable means of getting ahead of the violence curve within facilities and in outside communities.

Child exploitation: When police in Glastonbury, Connecticut, received a report of a suspect allegedly sexually exploiting a child in their jurisdiction, they immediately reached out to federal authorities. After obtaining a warrant they raided the home of James Ripberger, the suspect in the case, retrieving some 50 devices that would eventually be determined to hold 35 TB of information.

Manually reviewing that much data to find critical evidence linking the suspect to the child in question might have taken months and valuable evidence could easily have been overlooked from what would eventually include thousands of pornographic pictures and some 20 videos. With the help of Cellebrite experts and advanced analytics tools, Glastonbury police were able to find key images that eventually lead to the suspect’s conviction.

Violent crime: When a young Queensland, Australia woman was reported missing by her family, the Queensland Police Service established that she was last seen with a 19-year-old man who insisted he had dropped the woman off and hadn’t seen her since. Suspecting the man was lying, investigators needed “directional data” that could shed light on his whereabouts that evening.

To inform their interview of the suspect, the Queensland homicide team performed a data extraction of his phone. Geolocation data helped guide them to the woman’s body in a location close to where the suspect had previously requested digital mapping instructions. Additional digital evidence, such as web-search history, built a strong case: The suspect was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Cryptocurrency: Iceland, with its low crime rate, cheap warehouse space, polar climate, and abundance of inexpensive geothermal energy, has become the world’s leader in digital currency mining over the past several years. Sindri Thor Stefansson, an Icelandic man with a history of criminal activity and prison time, saw an opportunity to start his own Bitcoin mining operation — by stealing computers from cryptocurrency data centers located in the southwest region of Iceland.

Stefansson enlisted help from four other associates to execute his plan. Over a two-month period, the team broke into several cryptocurrency data centers, stealing more than $2 million worth of technology equipment — from motherboards to power accessories. For their very last hit, the thieves were even helped by a security guard. This brief but highly productive crime wave was reported to be the biggest burglary in the history of Iceland.

Traditional police work helped track down the thieves targeting cryptocurrency data centers in Iceland, but Digital Intelligence from one suspect’s mobile device provided the proof of their involvement.

New Solutions That Lead The Way

Innovation is the key to success, and at Cellebrite, we never stop creating new products to build a safer world. We’re also dedicated to making our solutions available in various formats to make them more affordable to a larger customer base.

Access Data Anywhere: Now you can empower every UFED endpoint in your fleet with Premium capabilities, when and where needed, to make Premium available in different formats for use in the field or in the lab.

Data Analytics: Investigators are faced with an enormous volume of data and digital evidence, which requires filtering and analyzing. Cellebrite Pathfinder helps expedite investigations, using AI to highlight relevant leads, so cases can be resolved more efficiently.

Evidence and Workflow Management: Designed by and for our users, Cellebrite Guardian offers law enforcement a highly secure and compliant solution to help manage, store, share, and review evidence, from intake to review and final report.

Open Source Intelligence: Open-source intelligence provides the ability to view any online information to collect, analyze, and produce actionable intelligence. With Cellebrite OSINT you can get the most relevant information available in one easy-to-use dashboard.

Bringing Investigations Into Focus

Transforming your investigative workflow isn’t just about adding new solutions; it’s about looking at your entire operation and the skillsets needed by those who run it. It’s also about choosing the right partner to make that transformation vision a reality.

The road to digital transformation starts by agency managers looking inward to see where they want their teams to be in several years, then adding technical capabilities and training to their existing infrastructure and culture in a spirit of constant improvement. Source: Cellebrite

At Cellebrite, we’re able to bring investigations into focus because we have a clear vision and roadmap to create safer communities through a Digital Intelligence Solutions Suite and services that are unmatched in the industry.

We’re here to help you identify and improve your workflow and your workforce gaps to make it easier for you to legally collect, review, analyze, and manage data, close the public safety gap, and make the world a safer place.

Whether your organization is just getting started or you’re far down the road on your transformation journey, Cellebrite is here to partner with you to achieve success.

For more information on how you can begin transforming your agency’s workflow and culture to move from forced choices to force multipliers, click here.

About the Author

Todd Adams brings 25 years of law enforcement experience to Cellebrite. He is primarily responsible for working with law enforcement and government agencies to determine how to prepare for Digital Policing in the future. He is also responsible for the development and delivery of technical training for Cellebrite solutions to these agencies around the world. Mr. Adams has successfully managed programs and professional services around the globe and regularly speaks at industry conferences such as Techno Security, the Digital Forensics Conference, and other similar forums.

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