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Of Cops and Cookies: How Police Are Using Computers to Solve Crimes

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The editors at Computer Science Degree Hub decided to research the topic of:

Of Cops and Cookies: How Police Are Using Computers to Solve Crimes

Forensic investigations seek to uncover, analyze and preserve evidence to be used in criminal proceedings. As technology has become increasingly prevalent in everyday life, investigations have spread to computers, telephones and other electronics.

Some crimes in which computer forensics may help lead to conviction

- murder
- terrorism
- organized crime
- smuggling
- extortion
- tax evasion
- sexual harassment
- embezzlement
- corporate espionage
- fraud
- medical malpractice

FBI Regional Computer Forensics Labs (RCFLs)

- RCFLs are federal labs that aid city, county and state jurisdictions in investigating crimes
- Many police forces have limited forensic capabilities

In 2012:

- Number of RCFLs nationwide: 16
- Participating agencies: 132
- Examinations conducted: 8,566
- Examiner court testimony: 101
- Terabytes processed: 5,986
- Agencies making requests: 842
- Training conducted: 6,500 law enforcement personnel

BTK killer

- BTK was a serial killer in Wichita, Kansas who named himself after his method - Bind, Torture, Kill
- BTK was active for over 30 years
- Killed at least 10 people
- After killing, he would taunt police with letters detailing his crimes

The Evidence

- In 2004, after years without contact, BTK began sending letters again
- By posting ads through the local newspaper, he asked police if he could communicate with them via floppy disk without it being traced back to a particular computer
- The police lied and said yes
- The floppy disk was quickly traced to a computer at the church where Dennis Rader was president of the congregation
- DNA tests matched Rader to the BTK murders
- The Outcome:
- Rader pled guilty to 10 counts of 1st degree murder
- Sentenced to 175 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution

Scott Peterson

- Christmas Eve, 2002 - Modesto, CA:
- Laci Peterson, 8 months pregnant, was reported missing by husband Scott Peterson
- The same morning, Peterson claimed to be on a solo fishing trip near Brooks Island

- The Evidence:
- Scott Peterson came under suspicion for his wife's disappearance
- He had had multiple affairs and didn't want kids
- April 14, 2003 - The bodies of Laci and her unborn son washed up on a beach in Richmond, CA
- The patterns of water currents make it possible that Laci's body was dumped near Peterson's fishing spot

- Computer forensics experts found several pieces of evidence:
- Dec. 7-8, 2002 - Peterson searched ads for used boats, fishing information, boat ramps in the area and currents in the area
- On the morning of Laci's disappearance, Peterson made a call from his home to his voicemail after he claimed to have already left for his fishing trip
- Wiretaps suggest that after Laci's disappearance, Peterson lied about his whereabouts to friends and family

- The Outcome:
- Peterson was found guilty of 1st and 2nd degree murder
- Now sits on death row at San Quentin State Prison while awaiting appeal

Craigslist Killer

- "Craigslist Killer" was the nickname given to the man who bound and robbed three women, killing one

- The Evidence:
- Police used video surveillance to find images of the killer
- Traced the phones he used to call the victims to disposable phones
- Traced the e-mail used to respond to the Craigslist ads to the IP address of Philip Markoff

- Police then followed Markoff, a medical student at Boston University
- Gathered fingerprints, which matched those found at the crime scenes
- Searched his home and found evidence including:
- a gun and bullets matching those used in the murder
- plastic restraints
- a fake ID
- clothes matching video surveillance

- The Outcome:
- Philip Markoff was indicted for first-degree murder, armed robbery and other charges
- Pled not guilty
- Committed suicide while awaiting trial

Casey Anthony

- July, 2008 - Cindy Anthony called police to report that her 2-year old granddaughter, Caylee Anthony, was missing

- The Evidence:
- Casey Anthony's parents picked up her car from impound, saying that it smelled like "a dead body"
- Cadaver dogs later detect the smell of human decomposition in the trunk and in the Anthony's back yard
- Casey told police that her daughter had been abducted by her nanny a month before
- Casey was arrested for child neglect
- September - FBI lab results show that chloroform was found in Casey's car
- October - A grand jury indicted Casey Anthony on 7 charges related to her daughter's disappearance, including 1st degree murder
- December - Caylee's remains were found 1/4 of a mile from the Anthony home
- Casey claimed that Caylee had drowned in the family pool

- Computer forensics experts found several suspicious searches on the Anthony home computer:
- "neck breaking"
- "shovel"
- "household weapons"
- "chloroform"
- "how to make chloroform"
- "death"
- "internal bleeding"
- "hand to hand combat"
- "inhalation"
- "chest trauma"
- "ruptured spleen"

- The Outcome:
- Anthony was acquitted of murder in 2011
- She was found guilty of four counts of "providing false information to a law enforcement officer during a missing person investigation"
- She was sentenced to 4 years in prison, including the 3 years already served awaiting trial

- After acquittal, it was found the on the last day Caylee was seen alive, the term "foolproof suffocation" was searched on the Anthony computer
- It is speculated that this discovery could have led the jury to convict Anthony of 1st degree murder

Beware the CSI Effect

- While computer forensics can crack cases, real life isn't like our favorite crime dramas
- The CSI Effect is the idea that jurors have unrealistic expectations for criminal proceedings, which leads to the wrongful acquittal of guilty defendants
- In a survey of 1,000 jurors before participating in trial, it was found that:
- 46% expect to see some kind of scientific evidence in every criminal case
- 22% expect to see DNA evidence in every criminal case
- 36% expect to see fingerprint evidence in every criminal case
- 32% expect to see ballistic evidence in every criminal case