By Patricia Meade
A detective is one of two dozen certified by the state for recovery of electronic forensic evidence.
YOUNGSTOWN — Let’s catch some bad guys today, FRED.
We’ll start with analysis of the cell phone found on the body of a homicide victim.
Last number called? Incoming and outgoing calls? Text messages? Photos? Video?
“Sometimes, FRED can also retrieve deleted data,” Detective Sgt. Jason Simon said, showing off his new partner, a Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device (FRED).
“FRED can analyze anything that holds electronic data,” Simon said.
A small room in the Youngstown Police Department detective division holds FRED’s tall tower with five cobalt-blue lights, a document scanner, color laser printer, two computer monitors and briefcase-like carriers for cell phone analytical kits. Simon said he can analyze the data in more than 700 kinds of cell phones. (Who knew there were that many?)
In one corner of FRED’s cubbyhole command center stands a diminutive evidence locker. Simon explained that computer hard drives, cell phones, iPods and camera memory cards don’t take up much space.
At the urging of YPD Police Chief Jimmy Hughes, the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force gave the department $18,000 to buy FRED and a variety of software, such as the cell phone kits, said Lt. Mark Milstead. In return, task force member agencies can request the services of Simon and FRED.
The task force has officers from roughly two dozen law enforcement agencies in Mahoning and Trumbull counties who participate in either its gang unit or Crisis Response Team, said Lt. Robin Lees, task force commander. He said high-ticket items, such as FRED, are resources every agency can use but not every agency can afford.
Lees said money from the task force trust fund — grants and proceeds of drug forfeitures and seizures — is often used to buy equipment for one department that can be used by all. The YPD Bomb Squad, for example, has equipment purchased by the task force, he said.
Letters went out this past week advising task force member agencies that FRED is up and running. The police departments will continue to have electronic evidence analyzed by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation or Ohio State Highway Patrol labs, but also have the ability to opt for FRED.
Milstead said YPD has had occasional “turnaround issues” with electronic evidence sent to BCI, so having the ability to do the work in-house is beneficial.
“We’re another tool to be used along with BCI and the patrol,” Simon said. “Everyone has some form of electronics that can be processed.”
Milstead said Simon is called to crime scenes if electronic devices are present.
As an example, Simon recalled one murder scene on the East Side where the victim had surveillance cameras recording to a hard drive. The detective went to the house to document the computer equipment and ensure that it was properly disconnected for transport.
Simon said he is one of two dozen officers who completed 300 hours of electronic evidence recovery training through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy. Having the analytical equipment is a real plus for Youngstown, he said.
The 31-year-old detective said he’s always had an interest in computers and, aside from being self taught, took some college computer courses. His work with FRED will be in addition to his regular detective assignments, typically investigating property crimes.
Expanding on FRED’s capabilities, Simon said the device will be used to trace computer users’ Internet history, look for child pornography and scan for fraudulent checks. He also has software for cracking passwords.
In a mini demonstration, Simon placed in FRED a camera memory card that had been erased. It took FRED 22 seconds to lock onto the “deleted” photos, and then display all 48 of them.
Once an examination is complete, Simon will provide an analysis report that can be used in court. If a case goes to trial, he’ll be called as an expert witness.