New crime units to tackle backlog of digital evidence

Through 10 new High Tech Crime Units being established around the state, Indiana’s prosecutors say they will be getting much-needed help with the processing of digital evidence.

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council has announced the 10 host counties that will serve as regional hubs. Most are partnering with academic institutions, with the goal of giving all prosecutors access to state-of-the-art technology to help analyze and process digital evidence.

“We are extremely excited about these new programs and the impact they will have on the criminal justice system,” Chris Naylor, IPAC executive director, said in a news release.

The new crime units were created by House Enrolled Act 1082, authored by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon.

Passed by the Indiana General Assembly during the 2021 session with strong bipartisan support, the bill gives IPAC the task of administering funds to provide assistance to prosecutors. This assistance includes training, technical support and enhancing the ability to investigate, collect evidence and prosecute high-tech crimes.

“With these regional hubs, prosecutors will be able to collect more digital forensic evidence in order to serve justice,” Steuerwald said in a news release. “This is an innovative solution for investigating crimes throughout the state, especially as technology continues to advance and can hold the key to putting dangerous criminal behind bars.”

The new law calls for the state to appropriate the funds. However, it is unclear how much money has been appropriated and how it will be distributed.

Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said the high-tech regional hub that will be operated by the Madison County Prosecutor’s Office in partnership with Anderson University is expected to receive $285,000 each year for the next two years.

“State funding will allow these programs to expand digital forensic services, hire additional personnel and update hardware and software,” Austin said. “Partnerships with local universities will assist in developing the workforce pipeline, ensuring communities are equipped with law enforcement professionals for years to come.”

In the coming months, according to IPAC, the hubs will begin purchasing the necessary software and hardware and hiring staff for the high-tech units. The goal is to have units fully operational by early 2022.

Although not required by law, a majority of the regional hubs are going to work jointly with a neighboring college or university. The hub being created in Dearborn County, which will serve 11 counties including Clark and Floyd, is the exception.

Delaware County Prosecutor Eric Hoffman’s office explained the high-tech crime units are needed because of the increasing amount of digital evidence.

Police and prosecutors have historically relied on the Indiana State Police Cyber Crime Unit for analysis, but with most crimes now involving cellphones or some other kind of electronic device, the state police unit has become severely backlogged, according to the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office. Law enforcement and prosecutors were waiting months to get results back from the state police.

The establishment of a High Tech Crime Unit in Delaware County “is huge,” Hoffman. “It is a real game changer in criminal investigations. We now have the ability to process digital evidence locally and do so for our surrounding counties.”

The host counties and their partner academic institutions are:

  • Allen County/Indiana Tech
  • Dearborn County
  • Delaware County/Ball State University
  • Knox County/Vincennes University
  • Lake County/Purdue University Northwest
  • Madison County/Anderson University
  • Monroe County/Indiana University
  • St. Joseph County/University of Notre Dame
  • Tippecanoe County/Purdue University
  • Vigo County/Indiana State University

A map showing the regional hubs can be found online.

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