CSI-like tech experts take increased role in police work - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

CSI-like tech experts take increased role in police work

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

If you've seen the movie trailer for Hollywood's latest police officer, you'll notice Robocop, is more machine than man.

Far fetched to be sure, but then again robots are already assisting police. They get cameras in tight spots and poke around bombs too dangerous for a human. Now, the talk is of cameras on every corner, drones up above and data bases to zero in on crime before it happens.

"When I first got this job 27 years ago we were using dial phones and we were like bulls in a china shop," said Earl Woodham of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

He says times have changed.

"That has completely changed with today's technology," said Woodham. "We actually process evidence through highly educated agents on crime scenes."

The ATF has been using the Integrated Ballistic Identification System to match bullets to guns and crimes for years, but now agents are able to get something else left behind at a crime scene. DNA too small for the naked eye.

"To the public DNA would be something you can see like blood," said Woodham. "Our scientists can extract microscopic DNA that you cannot see."

It's why agents have to be meticulous when going through a crime scene. Every wall, every glass, every doorknob could contain critical evidence.

"It can be contaminated though," said Woodham. "But our agents are now taught to preserve that DNA and don't add anymore DNA such as their own to it and let our experts extract it."

Crime fighting technology is exploding and it's become big business. Police departments around the country are pitched almost non-stop on the latest and greatest technology. Minolta for example is marketing hand held devices where officers can get real time data, neighborhood layouts and positions of other officers in the field.

"It's a question of how much do you want to spend," said Dale Callan.

Callan is a retired US Postal Inspector. He now teaches at Central Piedmont Community College, training police officers how to use new technology.

"When we buy it we have to weigh how much does it cost and if we teach it can they (officers) use it," said Callan.

Big city police departments have bigger budgets for the latest gadgets. Small town cops often come to the school to use things the Celebrite. It's a box that plugs into any cell phone. It basically sucks all the memory out. We're talking call logs, texts, pictures and emails.

"I've extracted phones with 50,000 files on it," said Graham Kuzia who also teaches at CPCC. "It extracts all the memory off of the phone whether its been deleted, or not."

Kuzia says you would have to fill up your phone's memory at least seven times to be completely overwrite the data. So, even the phone's owner deleted the file, it is almost always there. He showed us a phone that had 82, thought to be erased, text messages.

"I got your dope, it will be 300 dollars" said one of the texts. It was key evidence in a drug case.

Pictures on cell phone can be also be really important. Many of them contain what's called XF Data.

"It will tell my what of type of camera was used." said Kuzia. "The weather outside, the date, the time."

And perhaps most importantly the GPS coordinates.

"We can zoom in within 3 feet of exactly where that photo was taken," said Kuzia.

Which could be the difference between a suspect walking, or being convicted.

One thing to remember about all this technology, it's not just available to law enforcement. A lot of the things the good guys, the bad guys can also buy. Staying ahead is a never ending battle.

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