Sheriff’s office ups forensics
capabilities with new training
By Suzanne Dean
Mar. 29, 2018
MANTI—A detective with the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office recently completed training that is enhancing the office’s ability to retrieve criminal evidence from computer hard drives.
Det. Derick Taysom was one of 25 law enforcement officials from throughout the country invited to participate in a five-week training at the National Computer Forensics Institute, an agency of the U.S. Secret Service, outside Birmingham, Ala.
Taysom left for Alabama in early January and completed the training on Feb. 9. Others in his training group were from Las Vegas, New Orleans, Alaska, Florida and Columbus, Ohio, to name a few locations.
“We’re very grateful to the Secret Service,” Taysom said. “They honestly gave us tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of software and training” that Sanpete County never could have afforded on its own.
The software Taysom brought back for use in analyzing computer hard drives will supplement software the county has already purchased to help extract data from cell phones.
At the Secret Service training, Taysom was told that today about 90 percent of crimes have some kind of electronic footprint.
Analysis of computer hard drives can yield evidence in crimes such as child pornography, identity theft, drug possession (including addicts who make false IDs in order to obtain prescription drugs), threats against others and violation of protective orders, to name a few, Taysom said.
And, he said, holding his phone in the air, “This is your life, your cell phone.”
A cell phone can show who a suspect has been communicating with and other information about the suspect’s activities.
As the Messenger reported late last year, cell-phone data was critical in locating John Coltharp and recovering his kidnapped children from Iron County.
In the past, Taysom said, when the sheriff’s office needed to analyze a hard drive, it had to send an officer with the drive (or a copy of the drive) to the Intermountain West Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory in Salt Lake City, which is operated by the FBI and several Wasatch Front police agencies.
Because the lab has a backlog, it took about three weeks to get results.
Then a sheriff’s deputy or other officer had to go to Salt Lake to bring back the hard drive. A lot of time and expense was involved.
The training and tools from the Secret Service “speed up the process” of doing computer investigations, which means the sheriff’s office can handle more cases and isn’t put in the position of dropping some cases because of lack of staffing capacity, Taysom said.
When sheriff’s officers run into a situation where they believe a computer may contain criminal evidence, they typically obtain a warrant to search the computer. Depending on the situation, they may or may not seize the machine, Taysom said.
Then, using tools from the Secret Service, Taysom makes a copy of the hard drive. That way, he can investigate contents of the drive without disturbing the original drive, which may ultimately be needed as evidence in court.
The software packages the county has obtained for analyzing android and Apple cell phones “do the same thing as the new software” from the Secret Service, Taysom said.
When a detective gets hold of a cell phone, he or she can retrieve just about anything that’s stored on the phone. Sheriff’s officers may also obtain a warrant and serve it on a cell-phone service provider to obtain the call record for the phone.
The enhanced abilities in computer forensics of the sheriff’s office increases its investigative capabilities.
Ten years ago, the county had limited capacity to investigate crimes, especially crimes involving use of electronic devices.
In 2008, Delbert Lloyd was hired as the first detective. Lloyd has retired, but the county now has three full-time detectives.
“We’re solving cases now that we couldn’t have five years ago,” Taysom said.