Tag Archives: digital forensics

Creating partners in public safety

109 Precinct Community Council Meeting, September 7, 2010A couple of articles caught my eye last week. First, there was Good Old Bill’s wistful story of a spontaneous decision to engage in some community policing:

People see that little of us these days, other than in a quick fleeting visit or by passing them whilst preoccupied whilst on foot – or more likely – by car. When they do see us we are generally busy thinking about what we have to do and that we have X amount of outstanding jobs that are “backing up” and need dealing with and that we have a pot of crimes that need investigating between all the calls for service….

All of this has resulted in people forming opinions of us. We are arrogant, unapproachable and uninterested [being some of the most popular ones]. In turn, we have formed opinions that the public don’t like us and that we are unappreciated and not understood. It’s a vicious circle.

We cannot control what opinions people form, but we can try to influence the reasons why they think them.

If only we had more opportunities like those I had this week. I think all of us would benefit from it. But I didn’t get a “tick” for doing it, and it’s not measurable by some kind of statistic.

Then, police leaders’ point of view on where policing is headed, from a summit in Seattle:

“The fact is, we’re in the process of constructing the next iteration of police work,” [Chief Garry McCarthy of the Newark Police Department] said. “Initially, police were very reactive,” responding to crimes after they’d been committed, he said.

“Then proactive policing came in, and we talked about preventing crime. The next step is preventing crime in concert and with the blessings of the community,” McCarthy said. “It’s where we’re going as a profession.”

[King County Sheriff Sue Rahr] said police agencies are good at teaching officers physical skills, but now they need to focus on officers’ interpersonal skills.

Instead of focusing on building trust through community forums and other macro-level efforts, Rahr said the focus is shifting to the micro level by building trust through individual contacts.

“We need to build community trust one interaction at a time,” she said.

What austerity means to community

Both in the United Kingdom and in the United States, what is called “austerity measures” in the UK and “budget cuts” in the US has impacted policing severely. Just this past week, the Sacramento Police department was the latest to announce deep cuts, layoffs too. Many specialized units are being eliminated, and officers will respond primarily to emergencies.

Yet both Good Old Bill and Sheriff Rahr are calling for more one-to-one interactions as a way to stave off the psychological impact of these measures. What’s up with that?

I’ve worried about what cuts would mean to high tech crime investigation and digital forensics. The more entrenched technology becomes, the more need to examine it for evidence of crime. Yet as police departments pull staff from these tasks and reassign them to the street (or lay them off altogether), the return to a more physical form of policing means less opportunity for officers to practice their digital — along with their interpersonal — skills.

The answer may just lie in those one-to-one interactions. Last year, a Denver Post article detailed how residents of Colorado Springs (Colo.) were taking a more active role in their own quality of life maintenance, the issues behind the “Broken Windows” theory of policing.

This reflects an article from San Diego, in which police noted that community policing was never meant to be permanent; it was meant to be transitory, enabling the community to be proactive and rely less on police. This transition may be underway already, even if we weren’t expecting it.

Legal and social complications

Still, questions remain on legal and social issues, especially with regard to high tech crime and evidence. Two other stories are troubling because of what they mean for privacy and how civilians relate to one another.

In Michigan, the ACLU has for a long time demanded to know how state troopers use cell phone forensic tools. Other law enforcement agencies are starting to put these tools in cruisers for officers to use, to save time and enable more evidence collection with less manpower.

However, and not just because of the ACLU, forensic professionals hesitate to cheer such decisions because good case law is predicated on proper forensic process. With great power comes great responsibility, after all; is it enough simply to train the officers on the use of the tool? A forensic unit is not a radar unit; it takes more than tuning forks to validate that the tool works properly.

In addition, The Independent noted that in the UK, victims of theft have engaged in some degree of vigilantism to find the high-tech equipment they’ve found stolen:

From Surrey to San Francisco, software is doing the job of the police as vigilantes use tracking programmes more commonly seen in CIA action thrillers to locate missing computers and phones. In April, the ex-England rugby captain Will Carling traced his stolen iPad to a block of flats in Woking. He knocked on all the doors – to no avail – then traced its movement through the town while detailing the chase on Twitter. The iPad was eventually handed in to local police.

Certainly this is convenient, but in some cases it may violate state laws. In California, for instance, no “safe harbor” law exists for crime victims to monitor stolen equipment in real time. That means residents who use these tools may be violating anti-wiretapping laws, and laws designed to protect private communications — yes, even on stolen equipment.

In other words, police can’t use that evidence in court, or at least can use only the data not collected in real time, and may be barred from using the information even with a search warrant.

More recently, vigilantism reared its head in Vancouver following the riots over the city’s Stanley Cup loss:

[B.C. Civil Liberties Association David] Eby said he understood the community’s anger, given the destruction and chaos, but said that bloggers run the risk of labelling bystanders as criminals.

“The concern that we have is when pictures are posted to private websites, the suggestion is made that people may have broken the law,” he said. “There were many people in the downtown area that were shocked, stunned, appalled that were not breaking any laws.”

It seems clear to me that in order to help citizens navigate these issues, police cannot simply return to the “bread and butter” of traditional policing. If they do, then that leaves only federal law enforcement — the Secret Service, the Internet Crimes Complaint Center, etc. — which is also unsustainable over the long term.

If we:

  • don’t want to return to traditional reactive policing because it will undo all the hard work we’ve put in over 20 years
  • don’t have time or resources to devote to proactive policing over the next 20 years
  • are truly taking the next step towards empowering citizens to keep themselves safe

Then we should consider treating them almost as rookie cops, finding field training officers and attorneys who can help them navigate legal and social issues as they become proper partners in public safety. It goes without saying that social media could help pave the way.

I know of detectives and officers who already do this, making the time with their agencies’ blessing. How might yours make room among their regular duties?

Image: lancmanoffice via Flickr

A starting point for professional officer development: LinkedIn

Used LinkedIn as part of a tiered social networking strategy

Used LinkedIn as part of a tiered social networking strategy

My last few posts have talked about the differences among personal, professional, and official police presences on the social Web; the need for goals and boundaries; and a little about knowing what the tools are for.

I want to focus on one of those tools, in part because it is a good start for officers to build a professional (rather than personal) presence online, but also because I was able to talk to one officer about how it fits in his overall social media strategy. That tool is LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has changed since I joined it a couple of years ago. Then, it seemed to be little more than an online resume service with references conveniently built in. Now, it’s become a much more powerful networking tool, and not just for job hunts. PR professionals use it to connect with journalists; specialists use it to find other specialists to whom to outsource.

Law enforcement, on the other hand, uses it hardly at all. And that’s a shame. Here’s why: unlike Facebook or Twitter, it’s totally professional.

I won’t go into great detail about all of LinkedIn’s features. Other bloggers, including Ari Herzog and Dan Schawbel, have done that, and you can find an entire blog related to the subject. (Be sure also to read a ConnectedCOPS description of how one police chief networks at the executive level.) But I’ve blogged before about expert branding, and LinkedIn is probably one of the best social tools to do that.

The digital forensic expert

I met Sgt. Danny Garcia on Twitter, as I began to follow digital forensic experts. A computer forensic lab supervisor for the Miami-Dade Police Department, he has created a LinkedIn profile pretty much in line with what is recommended: detailed with his current experience, making reference to previous assignments; taking advantage of features like Groups* (good for networking) and travel itineraries (likewise, only in person); and of course, updated with recent connections.

What makes a law enforcement power user of LinkedIn? “I was reluctant to join at first,” Garcia told me. “A friend of over 20 years, a private forensic photographer (@wymanent), referred me about a year ago. I found it was the easiest way to keep in touch with professional contacts.”

Many of those come from conferences, but business card trading is about as beneficial as baseball card trading nowadays. “People move around in this industry,” Garcia says, “but if they regularly update their LinkedIn profile, I can see where they are and what they’re doing without having to chase them down.”

That’s valuable in a field like digital forensics, where examiners need to be able to reach out for help with specialized procedures and equipment. Likewise valuable: the ability to connect with information technology or non-forensic professionals who may have important insights about a problem, and even to find out who is no longer privy to restricted information.

If anything, LinkedIn is another way to provide what Garcia calls “instant, constant communication” with other practitioners, but because it duplicates neither information nor individuals, it’s an important complement to other online communities such as Forensic Focus or the many listservs that serve professional associations.

Limitations for law enforcement

There are a few general limitations to LinkedIn, but for law enforcement, additional ones exist. “Some things about law enforcement cannot be discussed even within a professional network,” says Garcia. “Group restrictions, site security, and any vetting processes are only as good as the person who administers them.”

Even though LinkedIn is purely professional, workplace policies may restrict its use. At MDPD, says department spokesman Juan Villalba, there is no specific social media policy, but the department is cognizant of what its representative officers can say about it online. The general conduct policy applies to off-duty online conduct, while another policy governs social network use at work, on county computers.

Garcia also points out that “social networking fatigue” may come into play among investigators who don’t want to visit one more site to keep up with things. So, just as he uses Flickr only to share photographs without discussing them, law enforcement officers should be able to use LinkedIn in the ways that best work for them—even if it’s not what “the experts” recommend.

Tiered social networking

A final note: what prompted me to approach Garcia about his LinkedIn usage was only in part about his profile. It actually started with a Twitter conversation we had about how he “tiers” his social networking, maintaining a strict separation among LinkedIn (professional only), Facebook (close friends and family only), and Twitter (a hybrid).

Other law enforcement professionals may find this kind of system beneficial, as well. Although it’s Garcia’s personal choice, he says, “Do the people I work with really need or even want to know what I’m doing on the weekend?”

The tiered approach to social media may also help people who are reluctant or unsure of how to use the technology. They need to know how it works for, say, investigations (I know some detectives who maintain Facebook profiles only undercover, or who use it only to learn about the site and its features). And they need to be able to see the realities of use in the event they ever do start to use it more regularly.

Overall, however, LinkedIn use carries far less risk than does use of any of the other social networks, and its possibilities range beyond individual officers’ professional development.

For instance, they may be able to connect with local business owners and service providers. That can be valuable to building relationships with people who want to learn more about kinds of crimes (say, identity theft) and how to protect employees and customers.

Professionals who brand themselves as such can only reflect well on their agency. Those who are guided as to how to brand themselves are far more effective than officers left to their own devices—who may not brand themselves the way anyone would want to see.

As Garcia notes, law enforcement officers should remember that they are held to a higher standard than the private citizen. “Status messages posted on social networking sites are often read by people who perceive statements as matter-of-fact,” he explains. “These statements may reflect poorly on not just the individual’s beliefs, but also reflects upon their agency and the law enforcement profession in general.”

How can you use LinkedIn to promote yourself as a law enforcement professional?

*Some law enforcement-related Groups:

Law Enforcement 2.0
Law Officer: Tactics, Technology, Training
PoliceOne.com Network
The Law Enforcement Network

Image: clevercupcakes via Flickr