Digital Forensics Solve Crimes

by Fred Showker

Digital Forensics Regional Labs Help Solve Local Crimes In 2008, Illinois police received disturbing information about a Chicago woman who had taken a 3-year-old to a "sex party" in Indiana where the child and an 11-year-old girl were abused by three adults. However, by the time the tip was received, the crime had already occurred, and there seemed to be no evidence to support criminal charges.

RCFL examiners -- all certified by the FBI
RCFL examiners -- all certified by the FBI -- specialize in locating encrypted, deleted, or damaged file information that could be used as evidence in an investigation.

But there was evidence, buried deep within the woman's computer, and examiners from our Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory (RCFL) in Chicago found it -- a deleted e-mail titled "map to the party" that contained directions to an Indiana hotel. The evidence led to charges against all three adults, who were later convicted of aggravated sexual abuse and are currently in prison serving life sentences.

John Dziedzic, a Cook County Sheriff's Office forensic examiner who is the director of the Chicago RCFL said

quoting That's just one example of what we do every day ... Evidence we produce here -- and testify to in court -- is crucial in a variety of major investigations. end quote

The FBI established the first RCFL in San Diego in 2000, and today there 16 Bureau-sponsored labs located around the country, staffed by agents and other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies (see notes below).

Each facility is a full-service forensics laboratory and training center devoted to examining digital evidence in support of investigations -- everything from child pornography and terrorism to violent crime and economic espionage cases.

Using sophisticated tools and technology, RCFLs analyze evidence from all kinds of electronic devices, including computers, cell phones, video game consoles, and even reel-to-reel tapes.

Special Agent Justin Poirier, deputy director of the Chicago RCFL said

quoting Anything that can store data electronically can be analyzed . . . Digital evidence has become part of just about every type of investigation, because today everybody uses computers and portable electronics such as cell phones.end quote

RCFL examiners -- all certified by the FBI -- specialize in locating encrypted, deleted, or damaged file information that could be used as evidence in an investigation.

The benefit of having a regional forensic facility, he added, is that the FBI can bring its expertise and training directly to where it is needed.

Poirier explained further:

quoting The idea is to create regional resources ... We train the state and local examiners, who make a three-year commitment to the RCFL. When they return to their agencies, they have expertise and access they didn't have before. And in the process, we build lasting relationships with our regional partners. end quote

Dziedzic added,

quoting Instead of sending evidence to the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, we can analyze it much faster here in our own backyard. end quote

Chicago's RCFL was established in 2003 and consists of five FBI employees and 13 examiners from agencies including the Chicago Police Department, Cook County Sheriff's Office, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It is the only digital forensics lab in Illinois to be accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board.

Dziedzic said

quoting Accreditation is the gold standard when it comes to prosecuting cases and testifying in court ... It means that we operate at the highest professional standards. end quote

Poirier added:

quoting Criminals are using more sophisticated electronic methods to commit crimes ... This regional approach to digital forensics -- pairing the Bureau with local law enforcement to collaborate on cases -- is the future for law enforcement. It really works. end quote

More information about the RCFL program More information about the RCFL program

RCFL By the Numbers

The Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory program, a national initiative funded and administered by the FBI, recently released its annual report for fiscal year 2010. Below are a few of the program's accomplishments. For more information, read the entire report.

  • Number of RCFLs nationwide: 16
  • Participating agencies: 130, from 17 states
  • Examinations conducted: 6,564
  • Examiner court testimony: 80
  • Computer hard drives processed: 57,067
  • Agencies making requests: 722
  • Training conducted: 7,403 law enforcement personnel.

More information at

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Thanks for reading

Fred Showker

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