Local law enforcement agencies collaborated with faculty and students in the Department of Computer and Information Technology, Discovery Park, and other units at Purdue to create the High Tech Crime Unit, and officials provided a first-ever public tour of their facility Thursday (May 11) to celebrate the partnership.
A variety of criminal investigations in 2007 began showing the value of digital forensic evidence to local agencies and courts, according to Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington.
For a murder case in 2010, “we had no witnesses, no video, no DNA, no photo, and no gun. What we had was an abundance of cell phones. We reached out to Marc Rogers,” Harrington recalled. “Dr. Rogers said he had Ph.D. students working in this field who would love to be exposed to real-life data. They worked for two to three months and helped us tremendously.”
Their efforts led to a conviction, Harrington said.
Harrington and Rogers realized that the collaboration could be extended from individual cases into the creation of a multi-agency unit for permanent collaboration, benefitting local law enforcement agencies and Purdue. Police departments in Lafayette, West Lafayette, and Purdue, along with the Tippecanoe County Sherriff’s Department, created the High Tech Crime Unit (HTCU) in 2011 and contributed manpower to increase the number of officers trained to triage digital evidence at crime scenes.
“Forensic evidence is not biased,” said Harrington. “It’s purely objective digital data. Not only does it help convict the guilty, it helps exonerate the innocent.”
“The High Tech Crime Unit has provided a great opportunity to our computer and information technology students to get hands-on, learn-by-doing experience through internships,” said Gary Bertoline, dean of Purdue Polytechnic. “What is great about working with industry — and in this case, law enforcement — is that we are able to make an immediate impact through a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Harrington thanked the University for providing space for the HTCU’s secure facility, built in Discovery Park’s Mann Hall in 2016. He also praised Purdue Polytechnic’s faculty and students.
“Purdue provides nationally recognized expertise, knowledge, and, more importantly, eager, well-prepared students who are developing their skills while assisting us. Dr. Rogers has been a tremendous ally for us over the last decade. Dr. Kate Seigfried-Spellar is a whiz, giving us so much positive energy,” Harrington said. He noted the HTCU is one of only three partnerships in the nation between law enforcement agencies and universities.