Computers compliments of Target help equip WPD forensics lab
Having the most up-to-date technology is becoming increasingly important for law enforcement, and with help from Target, the Warwick Police Department has added three new laptops to their Detective Division’s Computer Forensics Unit.
Captain Robert Nelson, Sergeant Eric Falcofsky and others from the WPD Detective Division were on hand to accept the laptops and present a certificate of civilian appreciation to Target Special Investigator Chris Renehan, Target Investigator Kate Dube and Target employees Michael Reid and Michelle Herzog on Tuesday morning in the newly completed computer forensics lab.
Detective Sergeant Joe Hopkins said the new laptops would allow patrol officers to view any video related to a crime they may be working on. The laptops would replace an aging video viewing system currently in place at the station.
“We use video in almost every investigation,” said Hopkins.
Patrol officers collect video from various sources when investigating an incident and the video often requires specific software to be viewed. Hopkins said the laptops will be set up to allow officers to download any software necessary to properly view the footage.
With two locations in Warwick, Target has collaborated with WPD on a variety of incidents over the years.
“We have a good working relationship,” said Renehan, who investigates high profile cases in Target stores throughout the East Coast.
Six months ago, Renehan was working with Detective Kerri Chatten when they discussed applying for a donation through Target & Blue’s Equipment Donation Program.
“The donation of these laptops is just a small part of what we do,” said Renehan.
Renehan said that Target & Blue, which was formed in 2003, is a partnership between Target, local law enforcement and public safety organizations across the country. According to a document on Target’s corporate website, Target & Blue maintains this partnership through sponsoring community events with law enforcement, grants, equipment donations, investigative support, forensic services and sting trailers.
Shop With A Cop nights and the annual National Night Out at Oakland Beach are a few of the events Target and WPD sponsor for the local community through Target & Blue.
Hopkins also said that the WPD have received a number of Target & Blue Law Enforcement Grants to support crime prevention programs and purchase minor equipment they might otherwise not be able to have. Grants can range in value from $500 to $2,000 depending on the request.
“We are working for a safer community together,” said Renehan.
Citing the important role computer and video forensics played in finding the Boston Marathon bombers, Hopkins said the laptops are another part of the department’s commitment to improving their Computer Forensics Unit.
Over the past two years, the WPD have been building a new computer forensics lab, which provides the equipment for computer, cell phone and video forensics. The space has been equipped with everything from wiring and electrical work to air conditioning.
According to Hopkins, mostly Urban Areas Security Initiative Grants funded the lab. In addition to equipment, the grants provided training for officers. In total, Hopkins estimates that $300,000 was needed to complete the project and they collected grants over four years.
“We’ve got four computer forensics technicians, eight cell phone forensic technicians and three video forensic technicians,” said Hopkins, adding that some technicians are cross-trained; there are a total of eight technicians in the department.
The WPD began their work in video forensics in 2001 and Hopkins said before the completion of this central lap, equipment and personnel were spread amongst a number of different rooms he described as “closets.”
“We were up and running but in all different parts of the building,” said Hopkins.
Creating a centralized lap space was important because a piece of electronic evidence needs to be studied multiple times by multiple tools.
“Evidence would be bouncing all over the place throughout these different rooms,” said Hopkins.
Now, when evidence is being studied in the lab, all of the tools and technology are in one place and the lab is equipped with a locked area to keep evidence safe. The lab is not only utilized by WPD.
“We also do a lot of computer work for other agencies,” added Hopkins, who explained that the team often assists state police, federal agencies and even other local departments from Massachusetts.
With investigations relying more and more on security video, cell phone data and other technology-related evidence, ensuring the forensics unit has the proper equipment to conduct investigations is becoming key to the success of the department, said Hopkins.