In the history of law enforcement, few things have transformed criminal investigations and prosecutions more than technology. Technology has enabled new ways to commit old crimes while emboldening those who may have never committed a crime before to hide behind the perceived anonymity of technology and engage in criminal activity. Technology has also enabled the invention of new crimes such as ransomware, sextortion, and virtual theft. Although new crimes and illegal methods have transformed criminal investigations, the most transformative change is the volume of digital evidence generated from a mobile device that most people carry with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Our Solution

In 2015, the St. Joseph County Prosecutor's Office Cyber Crimes Unit (CCU) implemented a solution to address the problem of digital evidence backlogs and the long turnaround time for investigations. Through a partnership with the Idzik Computing and Digital Technologies (CDT) program in the College of Arts and Letters at the University of of Notre Dame, CCU interviewed and selected students to work as student investigators for the CCU. This program began with one student investigator. Since its implementation, the program has expanded to 20 student investigators. While students interning with law enforcement is not new, our method is. The students are not considered traditional interns; rather, each of them is sworn in as a law enforcement officer and works on active case investigations.

Our Results

Since implementing this partnership, we have reduced the backlog of forensics examinations in our service area from 30 cases to zero. We have also decreased the turnaround time for forensics results from previous months' wait time to an average of just a few days. With our current model, we have maintained this zero-case backlog for the past five years, despite an increase of 500% in the number of forensics examinations we perform as technology involvement in crimes becomes widespread. This model has been so successful that in 2022, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation authorizing the creation of nine similar cyber crime units throughout the State of Indiana. This legislation included annual funding of 3 million dollars for the program. The CCU was instrumental in the proposal, design, and implementation of these additional units. We continue to work with the new units, providing technical and training assistance.