Technology changing spin on today’s law and order

Published 11:44 am Thursday, September 29, 2011

These are not your daddy’s cops and robbers.

Technology is changing how criminals work and how law enforcement officers catch them and prosecutors put them in prison, said Warren County District Attorney Ricky Smith.

“The use of computers and cell phones is so prevalent now, even when the crime is not computer-related, there is still a lot of evidence that can be accessed through them or through a cell phone,” said Smith.

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Smith attended the Southeastern Prosecutors Summit staged by the National Computer Forensics Institute in Hoover, Ala., this week. Retrieving information from a suspect’s computer and cell phone were just two of the topics covered.

Identity theft is a growing concern in Warren County and in the state, Smith said. Thieves skilled in the use of technology can nab credit card numbers and documents divulging personal information through outright theft, hacking into computer accounts or developing online scams.

And Smith said some so-called “smart phones” are equipped with a device that allows them to “read” and steal credit card information from others, he said.

“It’s getting easier and easier to steal information from people.”

On the flip side, prosecutors and criminal investigators can use information logged on cell phones to track the movements of a suspect. The phone just has to be “on”; it does not actually have to be used for phone or text message, he said.

“We tell police and deputies, confiscate the cell phone when you arrest somebody,” Smith said.

The Computer Forensics Institute is a training site for judges, prosecutors and others in law enforcement to learn how to recover evidence from computers and computer systems.

Prosecutors and district attorneys from Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama attended this week’s summit and hope to develop a closer working basis, said Smith, who was elected vice president of the Mississippi Prosecutor’s Association earlier this year and is in line to be president in 2012.

“Computer-related crimes cover broad areas and are often multi-jurisdictional,” he said. “We are looking to create an association that meets regularly, fosters cooperation with other prosecutors in computer-related crimes and helps us educate ourselves, as we try to become more computer savvy.”

Smith said he hopes also to develop a more comprehensive and user-friendly website for his office that would include a “10 most wanted” feature to publicize suspects in Warren County who have not shown up for scheduled court appearances. “I’d like to get that information out there,” he said.