Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Albany Citizens Police Academy - Week 10 - Computer Forensics and Narcotics

As per usual, class started with a few words from Community Education Specialist, Carmen Westfall. She asked for volunteers to speak at next week's graduation. I felt my hand go up before I even realized it, so I guess I'm speaking at graduation.  Oh, boy, maybe I can use these blogs to pull together something interesting... Oh, well, at least I enjoy public speaking.

Then we posed for the class picture... Okay, think high schoool, the whole class stands together in a group and snap, snap, snap. Now there's a pictire of you with a bunch of people you may never see again, some of whom you likely won't remember, truth be told. Only in this instance, there are some people in the class I've not exchanged more than two words with. And, yet, we've spent our Tuesday evenings together and two Saturdays together over the past ten weeks. Oh, well! Apparently, we each get a copy, so I'll share once I've got it in my possession!

Next, Detective Dawn Hietala explained the vital role of computer forensics in police investigations. Her job is to find evidence on computers. She trained in techniques to pull information from computers without altering or disturbing the evidence. She preserves, identifies, extracts, analyzes, and documents the evidence, so that the criminal can be successfully prosecuted and the victim validated. She explained the process for removing the hard disk, imaging it, replacing it, and then searching for the evidence. The training to become certified is time consuming and expensive, so there aren't a lot of computer forensic experts. The numbers are growing though.

Detective Hietala searches deep into the computer to find things including things people often think they've deleted or erased from the computer. Even damaged hard drives can reveal their contents. Completely erasing files from a computer is nearly impossible. It can be retrieved with the right training and by an expert who knows how to find it!

A large portion of Detective Hietala's job is locating child pornography on computers belonging to child molesters. This helps to validate the stories of molestors' victims and to prove the person is a pedophile. She sends the images she finds to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC runs the images against those in their database to find the ones who've been identified through other cases. The identifications help to both identify that a child was actually a child when the picture/video was taken and aids in prosecution. This database also helps to identify patterns of behavior between videos identifying both victims and perpetrators.

Important note: if you don't want something discovered, your best best is to never put it on your computer because even if you delete it or use an erasure program, remnants remain. This is easy to forget in today's world of instant communication and digital sharing.

Following Detective Hietala's presentation, Detectives Justin Alexander and Alex Johnson explained narcotics investigation. They spent a significant amount of time explaining the effects of various narcotics. They also explained how the law allowing medical marijuana use has complicated enforcing the law because so many people abuse the law and thwart the system.

The detectives explained heroin's close relationship to oxycontin. Both are opiates. Oxycontin can be manipulated to be used in a manner similar to heroin. Suddenly, I understood why in Kentucky oxycontin has earned the nikcname "Hillbilly Heroin" better than I did before. I wish I didn't. Another one of those moments in life when I wish I could remain ignorant to make myself feel better. - Willful blindness seems to be a habit of mine.

They discussed the drug dog with obvious affection and admiration expressing that the dog easily pays for himself in finding drugs that would otherwise go undetected.

Protecting the children who are trapped in drug riddled environments is a strong motivator for the both detectives. Sadly, they explained that most of the time children living in these homes test positive for whatever drugs the adults in the house are using. This is usually through accidental contact.

They talked with pride about a large bust where weapons and a significant amount of money was seized, but, without hesitation, said they'd trade those large busts for saving a child in danger any time.

Many may be surprised at what it takes to establish probable cause to enter a house suspected of drug possession/distribution. Most investigations take multiple months just to gain entry. There are also undercover buys and the like to help establish probable cause.  Confidential informants who have a prior relationship with the dealer are often the easiest way for the detectives to gain access to the evidence needed to get probable cause and to make arrests.

Detectives Johnson and Alexander brought in several different types of drugs and drug paraphenalia to show us what the drugs and the paraphenalia look like. I was surprised how normal the psychodelic mushrooms looked. They would be easy to mistake for something nonthreatening. One marijuana pipe amused me. It looked like someone had removed the cylinder from a six-shooter and placed it on top of the pipe. Detective Alexander explained that it was designed to put in marijuana for up to six smokers. Each person would smoke from his/her slot. The next would rotate the cylinder and smoke from the next. Yet, I found it slightly amusing that they were all using the same mouthpiece. Germs! Yuck!

They also allowed a few of us to perform the field test for meth. I volunteered. Detective Alexander had us put on black gloves. Then he handed each of us a little plastic bag with three vials in it. Next he dropped a small piece of meth into the bag. It looked like rock salt. We each sealed our individual bag with a little plastic clamplike thing. We crushed the first vial and swished the bag around. Then we crushed the second vial and swished again. Then we crushed the third vial and swished. The contents turned an inky blue-purple color almost before I started the final swishing. That was kind of cool.

Okay, I know I've complained a bit about the focus on drug investigations throughout the Academy, but the presentation on narcotics was interesting, well presented, and very informative. It's not necessarily something I see needing for any of my planned projects, but who knows maybe the knowledge will inspire a new project...

No comments:

Post a Comment