Technology continually evolves, posing a challenge to law enforcement as detectives tackle an increasing number of cybercrimes like cyberbullying and cyberstalking.
Annually, more than 2,000 victims of cyberharassment approach Working to Halt Online Abuse seeking help — approximately 50-75 cases a week.
“Half the victims do know their harassers, and when they do, they are typically an ex; the other half have no clue who is harassing them,” stated Jayne Hitchcock, president of WHOA. “Another thing we’ve seen over the years is, when we first started, the majority of the victims were females and the harassers were males. But the past couple of years, we’ve seen more male victims and harassers are pretty much neck to neck male and female.”
WHOA’s website contains statistics compiled from victims who choose to complete a questionnaire. Between 2000 to 2012, a total of 3,787 questionnaires were completed. Of those victims, 54.25 percent reported their cyberharassment to either law enforcement, the harasser’s ISP(s), a web admin/moderator/web host, lawyer, social networking site, auction/for sale site, or other entity such as a school, employer, family or friend. In some cases, victims reported the harassment to multiple sources. But are police prepared to take these reports?
Hale Guyer, a retired special investigator with more than 32 years of law enforcement experience, stated in 1999 there was a big push on the federal level for a report on developing technologies. “Basically, (the report) said with Internet becoming more popular, there would be more of a challenge for law enforcement to keep up on it.”
Originally, federal and state agencies handled local agencies’ computer crimes cases. Then the numbers started to boom. “There is some catch-up needed,” Guyer said, adding rookies get basic training but often receive zero hours on the computer.
With this lack of training, Guyer said, it’s very difficult to take reports on cybercrimes, let alone investigate them. “Younger cops do slightly better handling them — they grew up with it (technology).”
Education, he continued, is extremely important when it comes to enforcing cybercrimes.
“The problem is if I drive down to a bank and pull a gun out — a traditional crime — I have everyone after me. If you take it into the world of technology, you have 1 to 3 percent (of officers) trained to enforce cybercrimes … you have a bigger payoff with only 1 to 3 percent of officers trying to put you in jail.
Presently affiliated with the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy and the National Law Enforcement Academy as an adjunct professor, and with the Office for Victims of Crimes as a training and technical assistant, Guyer has taught more than 100 classes to federal state, county and local law enforcement officers, giving them the tools they need to catch cyberlawbreakers.
“Detectives, once they understand how it works, don’t need me to teach them how to be cops,” said Guyer. Once they know how the bad guys are using technology, their investigative side just clicks.
Among the skills assisting detectives are knowing how IP addresses and domains work, and how to trace emails. Screen capture programs and video capture programs also need to be used to save electronic evidence.
“They have to have a rudimentary knowledge of how to document and save evidence just like any other crime,” Guyer said. “Learning where evidence might be located that goes along with this. Metadata, or not readily seen data, can be found behind documents or imbedded into online pictures.”
Many people have GPS activated in their smartphones. Knowing how and where to look can reveal the geo-tag, which shows where that photo was taken.
When it comes to mild resistance to learn about technology, Guyer asks: Are you law enforcement? Do you take complaints? Are you called for advice? “You can’t teach how to safely drive an automobile without having driven one. You have to understand it. You have to be familiar enough with it to take a complaint and investigate it.”
Training can be expensive, though, and recertification also comes with a price tag. Larger jurisdictions often have cybercrime divisions, but smaller agencies have to grapple with tighter budgets
“The officer could then get pulled toward the private sector,” said Guyer. “Departments are then left questioning: Do we train someone else?”
Expensive schools are not the only option that will enable officers to do something of consequence. Another avenue is to approach higher-up agencies for assistance, like larger area cities or county sheriff departments.
“If they don’t have the expertise at that level, keep going up,” said Guyer. He noted several states have strong attorney general offices that handle cybercrimes; Homeland Security is another option. Some states also have task forces to which they ask local agencies to appoint an officer.
“There is a lot to it, and it’s not going away,” said Guyer. “If I haven’t taught a class in three to six weeks, I have to update the class curriculum to keep up.”