Know what is on your kid’s cell phone? Tara Cruza does.
Cruza’s job involves scanning hard drives, dumping call logs and text messages from cell phones – all manner of high-tech wizardry that is increasingly an important part of police work.
Cruza, a deputy and chief computer specialist at the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department, runs a forensic computer lab. The program is called HEAT, which stands for High Tech Evidence Analysis Team.
She first worked with the sheriff as an intern at Bridgewater State College in 1999, then in the school’s IT department before taking over the HEAT lab last July.
Every day, Cruza does computer work as part of police investigations for the many communities in Plymouth County. She also recently participated in Operation Corral, a statewide police child pornography sting that resulted in the arrests of 32 men, including two from Brockton, one from Taunton and one from Middleboro. The HEAT lab, which was started in 2003, also participated in 2006 in the statewide “Operation Trenchcoat,” an online sex sting netted 11 men, including a sitting Plymouth selectman.
Cruza went out with police during the Operation Corral raids, telling police which pieces of technology were important to confiscate. Corral was a large-scale operation in which state police and the attorney general’s office coordinated with local police and sheriff’s departments. However, Cruza said people like the 32 accused pedophiles picked up during the Corral sting are on the Internet constantly.
“Literally, you could do that every day,” she said. “These networks are so extensive and they’re all over the world … They know where to go, they know the keywords.”
Looking through the hard drives confiscated from alleged child pornographers is some of the toughest work Cruza has to do.
“It’s awful,” she said. “Some days I need a break.”
A typical day in the HEAT lab can vary greatly depending on the nature of the cases Cruza is working. For example, if she’s been asked to look into a hard drive, that can take hours simply to copy over the data. Because any interaction with the hard drive could be considered tampering with evidence, Cruza copies the data using a computer named the Forensics Recovery of Evidence Device, or FRED.
“It takes a long time,” she said. “You’re not just booting up a computer and looking at it.”
The type of crime can also vary greatly.
“It seems to come in waves,” Cruza said.
For example, in March she was mostly working on drug cases – before that, a group of sexting issues.
Sexting is another difficult issue, Cruza said, because of how much parents seem to be oblivious to the technology.
“If the parents took the time to look at their kids’ cell phone they would see all that,” she said. “They had it written out for you and you didn’t see it.”
Cruza said she’s always been fascinated by the technology side of law enforcement – her internship coincided with the introduction of the department’s AFIS fingerprint database.
“I think I filed 30,000 fingerprint cards,” she joked.
“It’s kind of like a puzzle,” she added. “I love that it’s detective work and it makes a difference.”
Justin Graeber may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @justingraeber
READ MORE about this issue.
View full post on National Cyber Security