How to beat the cost of crime-solving tech

Complex and expensive crime-solving needs are driving local law enforcement entities to the FBI and other deep-pocketed federal agencies for solutions.

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Ten years from now, the biggest federal law enforcement agencies will be critical partners of their smaller state and local counterparts, helping them with technical, complex and expensive crime solving capabilities, according to some law enforcement experts.

Crime solving technologies -- from developing algorithms, to unlocking encrypted smart phones, to probing the dark web, to analyzing DNA evidence -- are becoming commonplace in solving or preventing crimes across the country.

One of law enforcement's biggest challenges is how to pay for those capabilities, said David Denton, deputy assistant director, cyber, at Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations operations.

Criminals, he said in panel remarks at the May 9 AFCEA Bethesda's Law Enforcement and Public Safety Technology Forum, are adept at leveraging technology. Tech-savvy crooks are hiding behind the anonymity of the dark web, obscuring their identities on crime scene videos or using encryption to conceal criminal activity.

Solutions for solving tech-based offenses can be "out of reach" for small federal agencies and state and local law enforcement, he said.  Increasingly, those crimes will be solved by big federal law enforcement agencies, such as HSI which is the second largest criminal investigative agency behind the FBI.

While small law enforcement operations have relied on effective, free technology, such as a "scraper" that helped disrupt the notorious Backpage site that listed child traffickers' ads, those applications will probably lose their effectiveness as criminals advance technically, Denton told FCW.

The scraper used to find child ads on Backpage, Dento said, was developed by Thorn, a nonprofit organization that leverages technology against child exploitation. The group was originally formed in 2009 by actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher to help law enforcement battle child exploitation.

"That technology costs money" to develop, Denton said, and groups may not be able to afford to provide it at no cost forever, particularly as technology rushes ahead and agile criminals continue to have a tech advantage over law enforcement.

Capabilities and technical complexity of encrypted smart phones and other mobile technology will continue to evolve, said Gurvais Grigg, assistant director of the FBI's laboratory division. Managing that constant data stream from those devices will challenge law enforcement in the coming years, he said.

The number of requests for help from local police in accessing encrypted smart phones is growing quickly. Tech solutions that provide that access are costly, and agencies with deeper pockets and research capabilities like HSI and the FBI will be crucial in helping smaller organizations manage the expense.