ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Albemarle County Police Department (ACPD) is using a new state-of-the-art cybercrimes lab to speed up its electronic and digital investigations.
Officers debuted the lab Tuesday, March 10, inside its police headquarters off 5th Street. The lab contains three, high-speed computers equipped with various software programs to extract and analyze data.
“Two of us are generally working full time everyday in here to try and get caught up, because its very time consuming and time sensitive to get some of this material analyzed,” ACPD Detective Michael Wells said.
The technology is primarily used for cases related to child sexual exploitation, but Wells said it has other uses as well.
"Most recently we had a shooting case that we’re currently working, and we were able to take the cell phones from the folks that were involved, download that data, and actually gain intelligence,” the detective said.
Representatives from the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) were also present during the lab’s unveiling. The office assisted in funding for the equipment, as well as necessary training for detectives.
“Working with the investigators and the command staff here, they let us know what their needs are and what they’re seeing as far as these types of crimes,” BSCO Sgt. Steve Anders said.
BSCO is one of the original offices to take part in the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC). The office assists localities across the commonwealth with funding and other resources for projects such as this one.
“We can’t do everything out of Bedford. It’s better for the agency and their local jurisdiction to work the cases that come up in that area,” Anders said.
The facility will speed up the department’s handling of computer and cell phone examinations, Wells said. Before the creation of this lab, which was formerly a kitchen, the department had a single “antiquated” computer to conduct this kind of investigation.
“It’s way quicker and it’s way more efficient,” Anders said.
He estimates the project cost more than $100,000, with additional money spent on training detectives. The Albemarle County Department is also actively looking to expand the lab with more technology to take on more cases.
03/10/2020 Release from the Albemarle County Police Department:
The Albemarle County Police Department (ACPD) is proud to announce the establishment of a new Cybercrimes Lab that will provide investigators a state-of-the art workspace to conduct forensic analysis on electronics. This recently built lab will reduce the amount of time it takes to process electronic evidence related to criminal investigations, while at the same time providing a comprehensive analysis of digital evidence. By bringing this lab under ACPD’s roof, computer examinations that once took months to complete can now be accomplished in as little as a few days
The ACPD Cybercrimes Lab and new equipment was funded primarily through asset forfeiture and grant funds from partners, the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children (SOVA ICAC) Task Force and the United States Secret Service. ACPD has received approximately $60,000 from SOVA ICAC over the past year to fund law enforcement training, equipment, and operations.
“Partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, like the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, enable us to expand our ability to protect and serve the residents of Albemarle County,” says Police Chief Ron Lantz. “It is our goal is to establish ourselves as a leader in the rapidly growing field of computer forensics and cybercrime investigations.”
While ACPD’s Cybercrimes Unit is not new, they were responsible for over 40 felony arrests related to internet crimes against children since 2019.
"This workspace is an opportunity to make our work against cybercrime more effective and efficient,” says Detective Mike Wells. “In addition, this lab creates a place for ACPD to assist other law enforcement agencies to solve cases.”