In the beginning…

I started law enforcement on September 11th, 2000. I started where everyone else did, patrol. In those 19 years, I spent time as a Tactical Flight Officer on our aviation unit, as a school resource officer, and as a property crimes detective.

Then, in 2016, I was presented with an opportunity to work as a digital forensics examiner. I didn’t know what that was at the time. My only idea of what our previous examiners did was find disturbing images of children being victimized on computers. I wasn’t alone. That’s what everyone thought. They also thought I was crazy for wanting to do that. But, we place ourselves in physical danger to provide justice for our victims, why shouldn’t we place ourselves in mental danger?

So, I interviewed for the position. I took a bunch of free online law enforcement classes related to cyber crimes in order to bolster my chances. It didn’t matter. I was selected, I was told, because it didn’t require any paperwork as I was already in the division, unlike the others who interviewed. Was it fair? Probably not. But such is the way of government.

Having learned of my success, I spoke with the previous examiner whom I was to replace with pen and paper in hand. I asked him what training he received so that I may as well take it. He replied, “Youtube and Google.” Something told me the position required a bit more knowledge than what Youtube and Google could provide. I was given a book titled “EnCase Certified Examiner Study Guide” and told to read it. I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

I then decided to reach out to other examiners. I spoke on the phone with the supervisors of digital forensic units amongst some of the larger agencies in the country. They were very receptive to my plight and exceedingly helpful.

I discovered the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) and signed up for their Basic Data Recovery and Analysis. It was an eye opener as to what digital forensics really entailed. Seven months later I took their Intermediate Data Recovery and Analysis.

That was as far as my Google Fu could take me concerning free training, until I discovered the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). I have no qualms about asking for discounted or free training. I was able to garner a free seat in the Digital Evidence Acquisition Specialist Training Program (DEASTP). It was a two week class. Lodging and food were provided. They even have a bar on the post. Yes, it is a “post”. Much like the military.

DEASTP was an incredible class. There were two instructors, both very knowledgeable about the subject matter. One was retired Army CID and the other retired New York State Police. After taking this class, I felt confident I could extract data from a rock.

After this class, I was at a dead end as far as free training was concerned. I was an EnCase user, as this is what I inherited. I explained to my sergeant at the time, if I was ever called to testify, I could not point to any training I’ve had in the use of EnCase. And that would not look good. He understood my plight, but said there was no money. Fast forward less than a year, my sergeant retired, and we got both a new lieutenant and captain. I was a direct report to my lieutenant, who asked me exactly what I did. I started to explain in detail, to which he told me to stop talking. I am often accused of “baffling with bull****”. Some time later, my partner (I”ll get to him later) and I were called into the captain’s office. This is normally never good.

It was the captain, our lieutenant, my partner, and I. The door was shut. Never a good sign. They asked us how much money we needed. I was momentarily stunned. I had explained the need for quality training, albeit expensive, to what I thought were deaf ears. But they were listening.

Let us segway to my partner. We both transferred at the same time to replace the two previous examiners. He previously did Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) investigations and immediately preceding his transfer, he was the detective over our county’s sex offender registry. He had already his certifications relating to Cellebrite. On our first day together, I asked him if he knew how to examine a computer, to which he replied a big “NO”. I told him he needs to shut down his ICAC investigations in the time being until we can get spun up with training. Also, they didn’t provide a replacement to oversee our county’s sex offenders, and required him to wear two hats. So, we decided on our own, that he would do cell phone examinations and I would do computer examinations as at the time we understood computer examinations to be a more in depth and time consuming affair. I took up that mantle with a fervor.

Back to the captain’s office. “How much money?” All three looked to me as I was the most vocal about the subject. I told them we needed an EnCase Training Passport and to attend the Basic Computer Forensics Examiner class held by the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS). IACIS is an organization started by and primarily made of law enforcement digital forensic examiners around the world. It is truly an international association.

I had essentially asked for over $20,000. Our captain and lieutenant got the money. I was floored. They told us they knew nothing about our job other than it was both important and the future. We finally had the support we needed.

And thus began our journey.