Ocean County’s High Tech Crime Unit is Key to Unlocking Digital Evidence
It's not as glamorous as what you'd see on your favorite crime TV shows like "24" or "CSI," but the High Tech Crime Unit of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office is the real deal.
The unit assists law enforcement with all technology-related criminal activity, as well as devices such as cell phones and computers that have become a hotter source for leads and answers.
The need for the unit's services has doubled over the past few years. At least 50 percent of all cases that come into the Prosecutor's Office require the work of technology experts. Administrative duties have been pulled out of the unit in order to let the small team focus on what matters most: catching the bad guys and following the clues that could lead to other suspects.
The primary mission of the unit involves crimes related to child pornography and network intrusions, but they're increasingly called upon to handle digital evidence on everyday cases.
"We can process up to 1,000 pieces of digital evidence a year," said Sgt. Jim Hill of the High Tech Crime Unit, giving a tour of the two-building operation in Toms River. "We've been involved in every type of investigation you can think of, between bank robberies, homicide investigations, arson investigations."
The unit also assisted in "multiple avenues" on the Seaside Park bombing on Sept. 17, Hill said. Cases like that take precedence over anything else. The same goes for homicides and missing children. Their expertise is needed in swatting incidents as well.
The current backlog is at three to six months, which is better than most comparable units, according to Hill.
Work is currently underway to move the entire unit into one building and expand the group's work space.
"We are now setting up our crime unit to be second to none based on the people that work on that unit and the certifications that we get on that unit," said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. "The problem is that you always want to stay on the cutting edge and the cutting edge is always the most expensive."
Beyond the State Police, no computer crime unit in the state has national accreditation, the office said. The agency as a whole, and the Special Victims Unit, have received that certification, and the goal is get the High Tech Crime Unit on that list within a year.
"It ensures not only internally that we're adhering to best practices, but when they have to go to court, they can relay the fact that they're adhering to international best standards as it relates to the digital evidence," said Chief of Detectives Glenn Miller.
The unit is hoping to secure the funding for a mobile unit in the near future in order to skip a few steps in the crime-solving process and analyze evidence on the scene.