By Gary Palmer and John Ratcliffe
Unlike the shows you may see on TV, in today's age of rapidly developing technology, it's not always a drop of blood or a strand of hair that solves the crime. Instead, our nation's law enforcement is increasingly relying upon digital evidence -- whether it be a debit card purchase that was made, a geolocation signal that was detected or a text message that was sent -- in order to solve the crimes they face on a daily basis.
The added layer of complexity posed by the digital age influences nearly every crime our law enforcement officers face today. This makes it incredibly important that we ensure our United States Secret Service officers can effectively collaborate with their state and local counterparts to advance their mutual goals in solving crimes in every jurisdiction.
This is why, in 2008, the Alabama Office of Prosecution Services teamed up with the United States Secret Service to open a facility in Hoover, Ala. specifically tasked with training law enforcement to address the cyber and digital components of crime on a state and local level: the National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI).
Since opening its doors in 2008, the NCFI has trained more than 6,000 state and local police officials, prosecutors and judges from all 50 states and three U.S. Territories, including 3,900 law enforcement officers, 1,800 prosecutors and 400 judges. To date, NCFI graduates represent over 2,500 agencies nationwide.
In May, we were very pleased that the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Strengthening State and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act (H.R. 1616) to formally authorize the NCFI to continue its important mission. Just this week, we both visited the NCFI to get firsthand look of the great work being done at this facility.
The 32,000-square-foot facility boasts four multi-purpose classrooms, a network investigation classroom, a mock courtroom, administrative work areas and an operational forensics lab dedicated to the Secret Service's Electronics Crimes Task Force. The full-time staff of the NCFI includes eight Secret Service employees and three employees of the State of Alabama.
And as a result of its training, NCFI graduates have been able to use their skills to address an array of cybercrime elements to prosecute perpetrators in child exploitation cases, abduction cases and online money laundering schemes all across the country. These are just a few of the types of cases in which investigators and prosecutors were equipped to find evidence that they otherwise wouldn't have without the critical training provided to them by NCFI. In one such instance, a police officer addressing a case in San Antonio, Texas was able to recover critical evidence from a cell phone, which aided in identifying an individual who murdered a police officer in cold blood.
As members of Congress who represent constituencies that have both benefitted from NCFI training, we both couldn't be more supportive of the H.R. 1616 to ensure that its great work continues. We are extremely encouraged by the strong bipartisan support the bill has already received in the Senate from Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who sponsored a companion measure in the Senate.
Our nation owes it to our law enforcement officers to give them the best training and most advanced resources possible. Thanks to the NCFI, we can help provide them with both, so they can be successful in their mission of keeping our communities safe.