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New countywide police unit targets tech crimes

With all the advances computers and cell phones have made in our lives, it turns out the devices also provide a lot of opportunities for criminals.

“Phones and computers are really good ways to commit crimes,” said Tim Leslie, Dakota County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy.

Most law enforcement investigations involve some sort of electronic forensic evidence, whether it’s GPS data from a cell phone or messages sent via Facebook or Twitter, Leslie said.

“It’s a rapidly changing world.”

The sheriff’s department has had a computer forensic unit since 2003. The unit examines computers and other electronics to determine whether the user or owner has been involved in criminal activity.

But Leslie said the unit’s technology is dated and it lacks the manpower to serve the county or the police departments in it. With that in mind, Leslie said it made sense to address the challenges together.

“We’re all facing similar challenges and it’s a good opportunity for collaboration,” said Leslie.

Dakota County will expand its electronic crimes unit early next year. A number of the police departments in Dakota County will contribute to the unit.

While no formal agreement has been approved, Leslie said he believes the make-up of the unit will include two officers from the Dakota County Sheriff’s Department, one officer from Burnsville, one officer from Apple Valley and a half-time officer from Inver Grove Heights. Other communities including Rosemount will provide $15,000.

Leslie said the Lakeville and Eagan police departments have their own electronic crime units and have declined joining in the effort.

Rosemount Police officer John Winters said as an investigator who relies on electronic evidence, he hopes the unit will be able process evidence quickly and efficiently.

“More and more people have devices and it’s increasing the number of devices that we need to have analyzed,” said Winters.

Winters is currently working on a case that involves six cell phones that need to be analyzed.

With the additional resources, Leslie believes the county will be able to better serve area departments and the community at large. Leslie said the goal is to have the unit up and running by January 2015.

Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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