The way police investigators carry out their work is constantly changing and becoming more advanced due to technological enhancements that, not long ago, seemed far out of reach.
“Technology is definitely not slowing down,” said John Defilippi, a captain with Virginia State Police, the agency that provides statewide law enforcement services to the people of Virginia and its visitors.
“The things that we saw on television, when people watched CSI, that was pretty much fantasy but now it’s becoming reality,” Defilippi said.
For example, a new rapid DNA program being used by the department can provide DNA results in less than two hours, allowing investigators to quickly confirm suspects or exonerate innocent people.
Investigators using older technology would potentially have to wait several days, even if a result was being rushed by the lab.
“By that time, the case can turn in a way that you might not be able to recover from,” said Defilippi.
Other new high-tech tools include laser scanners that provide exact 3D sketches of crime scenes and panoramic photography that allows police to take photos and rebuild an entire scene using a computer, similar to how real estate agents offer virtual tours of homes.
Through that technology, police in a courtroom can walk a jury through a crime scene virtually so they can see everything that investigators saw when they were physically there.
“The ability to draft and present a map of a crime scene is much greater than any of us could have ever hoped for back when we used to have to use tape measures and the human eye to measure where pieces of evidence were located,” Defilippi said.
Defilippi added that his agency is “able to extend this across the Commonwealth, offering these specializations and resources to our local partners to help further their investigations.”
Risks from technology
There are risks associated with certain technological advancements, however, and one of the biggest tech-related threats that Virginia State Police investigators deal with involves scams, with criminals trying to get personal information from their victims.
Technology has allowed scammers to utilize dialing machines that randomize phone numbers, making it look like they may be calling from a legitimate number.
Not only do those machines hide the actual number of the scammer, they are able to make thousands of calls in a relatively short period of time.
“The scammers only have to be right one out of 10-thousand or 100-thousand times for them to make their mark and get some sort of financial gain,” Defilippi explained.
Some scammers pretend to be with the IRS while others claim to be members of law enforcement agencies, such as the Virginia State Police or the FBI.
According to Defilippi, it’s important for everyone to recognize that “no legitimate law enforcement agency will ask for credit card information or financial information over the phone.”
“If you think it’s too good to be true, or if it seems suspicious, verify before you give out any type of information,” Defilippi added.
Law enforcement relationships
The Virginia State Police is an agency that covers a lot of ground in the law enforcement community, but it doesn’t operate alone.
It frequently coordinates with federal, state and local partners to share intelligence, compare crime trends and establish task forces that specialize in narcotics, human trafficking and cybercrime investigations, among other things.
“It’s often been said that we don’t want the first time that we meet someone to be at a crisis scene,” said Defilippi. “That’s why we work very hard to make sure that we build and foster all of those relationships on a regular basis and continually communicate with one another.”
Relationships with the private sector are vitally important too.
Many technological advances that police now rely on are products that came from private companies.
Investigators use cellphone data and electronic evidence while searching for suspects, and that requires interaction with private internet and telecommunications companies.
Financial companies in the private sector also play a role, providing information if they identify any suspicious transactions. That can enable police to investigate money laundering and various other trafficking crimes.
“In the age of ‘if you see something, say something’ – we extend this to all crime, not just terrorism,” Defilippi said. “It just may be that a private sector entity comes across something that seems suspicious or irregular, and it ends up pointing to some other far-reaching criminal activity.”