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Back to Archives | Back to August 2005 Contents 

Technology Talk

Technology Talk: Douglas County Sheriff’s
Response to Computer Crime

By Holly Nicholson-Kluth, Captain, Investigations Division, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado

n early 2001, after posting an undercover profile of a middle school girl on the Internet, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office's High Tech Crime Unit received a message from a 45-year-old registered sex offender living within 20 miles of Douglas County. After being told that the person he was contacting was 14 years old, the sex offender suggested meeting for sex. In one of his e-mail messages he told her:

Tell you what, you come here, and I will get naked as soon as the door closes and you can get as naked as you want. I'll teach you to play all kinds of games naked. As long as you are willing to do anything I want, I will teach you the best ways to have fun having sex too.

Investigators set up a meeting with the sex offender at a shopping mall. He showed up at the meeting place with a sleeping bag and a cold soft drink for his victim; police arrested the suspect and charged him with attempted sexual assault and enticement of a child. Investigators who examined the suspect's computer found that he had exchanged messages with other young girls over the Internet; one of those "girls" turned out to be an undercover police officer from Colorado Springs. The suspect was found guilty at trial and sentenced to 10 years to life in prison.

This is just one example of almost 40 arrests to date for attempted sexual assaults on children, enticement of children, and possession of child pornography that the DCSO High Tech Crime Unit has accomplished by conducting online undercover operations. The arrests included three teachers, a youth coach, a youth counselor, a youth pastor, and two registered sex offenders.

Sheriff's Office Saw the Future: Investigating Computer Crime
As early as 1999, investigators in Douglas County saw that computer crime investigation was the future of crime fighting, a realization that has helped the sheriff's office stay ahead of the criminal element.

In 1999 Douglas County began to see rapid increases in white collar and computer - and Internet-facilitated crime. The northern part of the once mostly rural county was growing, and the growth brought affluence. Computers became more common, as did computer crime. Law enforcement in Douglas County wasn't trained to handle this type of crime. In those days investigators were lucky to share a computer with their entire unit.

Computer Crime Unit
In response to this computer crime trend, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office started its High Tech Crime Unit, focusing on Internet crimes against children, response to Internet crime, and development of computer forensic ability. An intense focus on learning the tricks of the trade-Internet chat, instant messaging, and computer evidence recovery-was the training emphasis of the day.

During this time, computer crime fighting was too expensive and required too many resources for the average sheriff's office. Training police officers to be online and motivating them to work on computers was unusual and inconsistent with the standard array of skills an investigator possessed. But Douglas County was willing to go beyond standard training and equipment for investigators to address this growing investigative field.

Funding Resources to Fight Computer Crime
An Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) grant helped supplement the agency's training and equipment budget. By 2001 proactive investigation of crimes against children netted double-digit arrests of suspects looking for children for sexual purposes in Douglas County. But investigators quickly learned that investigating computer crimes meant examining computer evidence. Cases were made but backlogs in exam results put investigations on hold.

The sheriff's office initiated discussions with many local agencies about joining forces to deal with mounting computer evidence backlogs. A new substation to service this rapidly growing northern tier was being built and Douglas County offered it up along with seizure funds to agencies willing to contribute manpower to develop one of the first locally run, multijurisdictional computer forensic laboratories in the United States.

A COPS grant was secured and during the next four years the newly formed task force, the Colorado Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory (CRCFL), started servicing the state of Colorado in the area of computer forensic examinations with the help of the the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, the Denver Police Department, the Aurora Police Department, the 18th Judicial District, the State of Colorado, and the U.S. Customs Service.

Over the next four years, the task force operated with seizure funds, an LLEBG (Local Law Enforcement Block Grant), and continued support from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office facility, its clerical support, sheriff's office supervision, and technical expertise. A Safe Schools Grant through the Colorado governor's office funded a school liaison that extended Internet safety education to parents and students, and computer crime training to school resource officers across the state of Colorado.

The existence of the CRCFL as well as the existence of Douglas County Sheriff's Office's High Tech Crime Unit, both located in the Lincoln Hills substation, helped bring training to this area of Colorado in computer crime investigations and computer forensics.

Since its inception, the CRCFL has examined more than 750 computer hard drives and more than 10,000 pieces of computer media. During the same period, the High Tech Crime Unit has arrested almost 40 individuals for soliciting children for sex online.

With the training garnered from the involvement in these programs, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office has the ability to respond to almost any computer crime with the resources, technical expertise, and equipment necessary to complete the case from first discovery to prosecution. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 8, August 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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