How criminal investigations have evolved with technology

“It might not be able to prevent a crime from taking place, but it does increase the likelihood that offenders will be caught and punished.”

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Technology has changed everything. Crime – and how the police investigate crime – is no exception.

“Digital evidence touches all of our investigations,” said Ryan Kennedy, a supervising FBI special agent.

During his time at the FBI, Kennedy observed the growing emphasis placed on such evidence.

“I think of my own neighborhood and the prevalence of ring cameras and the number of times something as simple as a doorbell camera has also helped local law enforcement solve crimes,” a- he declared. “Technology touches almost every aspect of our lives now.”

Whether it’s a kidnapping, domestic terrorism, child exploitation or a white-collar criminal case, Kennedy said digital evidence often plays a role. Like any other evidence, the Fourth Amendment requires investigators to have probable cause and a search warrant to search for and seize smartphones, computers, tablets and other devices.

“Cell phones are always with us, so if we can get our hands on someone’s cell phone, that’s usually the treasure trove of evidence we need,” Kennedy said.

Social media also plays a role in many cases, including the Jan. 6 Capitol uprising, Kennedy said.

“Having people use their cellphones to take selfies and then send them to family members helped us troubleshoot and identify some of these people,” Kennedy added.

Photos and videos also contributed to the investigation into the 2017 mass shooting at a downtown Little Rock nightclub.

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“This is where our detectives really had to comb through the phone evidence,” said Sgt. Eric Barnes of the Little Rock Police Department. “The surveillance evidence and the technology really ended up linking other people to this crime who were either there or involved.

The LRPD has investigators dedicated to monitoring social media, Barnes said.

“We know that if we are reviewing certain actors who may be involved in an investigation, we will pay particular attention to certain sites they may be involved with or any activity they may have on any platform. “, did he declare.

While there are many examples of how digital evidence helps solve crime, could it actually prevent it in the first place?

Dr. Edward Powers, chair of the Department of Sociology, Criminology and Anthropology at the University of Central Arkansas, spoke.

“Maybe the technology creates a deterrent effect,” he said.

Powers examines this using routine activity theory, which suggests that three ingredients make up the “recipe” for crime: a motivated offender, one or more suitable targets, and the perceived absence of a capable guardian – or the idea that you can go unnoticed.

“Technology has become a capable gatekeeper to some degree,” Powers said. “It may not be able to prevent a crime from taking place, but it does increase the likelihood that offenders will be caught and punished.”

According to FBI crime data, robberies in Arkansas fell by about 50% between 2007 – the year the first iPhone was released – and 2019.

“There are a lot of factors,” Powers said.

He believes the accessibility of cellphone location data, home security camera footage and the widespread shift from cash to electronic payment have played at least some role in the decline.

But he added that criminals have also evolved by targeting victims online.

“You’re probably not as likely to walk down the street in Little Rock and be robbed, but you might be more likely to be robbed by someone in another country,” he said.

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Whatever the crime, Kennedy said he and his law enforcement colleagues were ready.

“Whether you’re using a phone or a computer or throwing these things away, we still have work to do and we’re very good at collecting evidence of all kinds,” he said.

Mark M. Gagnon