By MICHAEL KRANSZ
Capital News Service
LANSING — What is to many people an all-in-one device for communication and entertainment is to law enforcement agencies a partner in criminal investigations.
With smartphones containing GPS and time-stamped data, police can use them as an additional piece of the narrative when executing a search warrant, said Detective Lt. Jay Poupard, the assistant commander of the State Police Cyber Section.
To keep up with demand for forensic services from local departments seeking help to access hidden smartphone data and train experts within those agencies, the State Police recently opened computer crime unit offices in Marquette and Coldwater, Poupard said.
Those facilities will offer two programs for officers’ certification as a forensic examiner and as a high-tech investigator.
“When we have that footprint and we have a physical place for detectives to go and learn while investigating these crimes, it makes the state a safer place,” Poupard said.
Detective Mike Kohler of the Marquette Police Department said although his agency has a smartphone and computer imaging technician, the State Police’s computer crimes office will alleviate some of the burden other agencies place on his.
Smartphone imaging can require hours, depending on what is being sought, he said. But it’s a vital part of investigations nowadays.
“Cellphones are applicable to just about every crime that we investigate,” Kohler said. “People obviously use cellphones day-to-day, and it’s a hand-held computer, and people plug into a lot of information. We glean a lot from that. It’s almost like a diary.”
Those most benefited by the State Police’s new Marquette office will be smaller, Upper Peninsula agencies, Kohler said.
Chippewa County Undersheriff Mike Bitnar said if the new office provides greater staffing in forensic analysis, it might alleviate State Police turnaround time problems in analyzing a phone and be a more timely option for his office.
While Bitnar said his office could use a forensic analyst in-house, it’s not feasible. Because of the department’s small staff, it’d mean one less officer on the road, he said.
“I don’t have the extra people,” he said. “The people who do that work in other agencies find themselves only doing that because there’s such a need for it.”
St. Joseph County Undersheriff Mark Lillywhite said smartphone data is useful in investigating homicides and drug cases, and even to determine if a driver was distracted by texting at the time of a fatal car crash.
“Cell phones are used every day,” Lillywhite said. “They’re used in conjunction with all sorts of crimes being committed every day.”
Lillywhite said smartphone analysis was used in the last three homicide investigations to go through his office.
The county is also purchasing two more pieces of software used by State Police to better analyze and crack smartphones that are seized as evidence.
“With technology, it’s part of life these days,” he said. “And you have to advance with that if you want to solve crimes.”
By MICHAEL KRANSZ