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MU forensic science program gets major technology boost

Sep. 11, 2009 @ 06:44 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Using Google Maps and new computer crime-fighting technology, Corporal Robert J. Boggs of the West Virginia State Police can determine where child pornography is being downloaded anywhere in the state.

Boggs talked about the advances in digital evidence analysis and collection Thursday afternoon at an open house at Marshall University's Department of Integrated Science and Technology to showcase the new digital forensics lab.

The expensive investment -- more than $170,000 from department funds -- purchased equipment such as computers, software and hardware that allows law enforcement to analyze digital evidence that may be lurking on suspects' computers or cell phones. About $50,000 was spent on devices to retrieve information from cell phones and hundreds of hookups for the numerous cell phone makes and models.

"(The lab) has all the latest tools ... to preserve and analyze digital evidence," said John Sammons, a former Huntington police officer who now teaches as an adjunct faculty member in the forensic science program.

Sammons said digital evidence is now prevalent in almost every crime, with the highest rate involving child pornography. But investigators can use e-mail accounts to deduce a timeline for when someone who is missing or the victim of a homicide last contacted a friend or family member. They also can use the equipment to bring back deleted files that may contain incriminating evidence linking someone to a crime.

"Computers and digital media impact almost every aspect you think of," Boggs said. "Our case loads are so high right now. We've got six months of backlog."

Boggs' unit within the state police has its own lab to train current law enforcement, but he hopes Marshall's new lab will enable more students to be trained in digital evidence collection and fill the gaps that all law enforcement agencies have.

"We're severely understaffed," Boggs added. "As are all labs. This field is growing exponentially, and it will only grow more. Computers are integrated into everything."

During a video presentation, Boggs talked about child pornography statistics in West Virginia. In August alone, there were 10,001 hits involving it. Hundreds involved residents in Cabell and Wayne counties.

Boggs also told the audience that a 10-year-old victim of child pornography was recently rescued from southern West Virginia. He said 56 percent of all cases submitted for analysis involved child pornography.

"We are making arrests out there and rescuing kids," he said.

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