Sheriff and police believe solving electronic crimes requires specialized knowledge and a team approach.
A brutal murder last year in Apple Valley demonstrates exactly how the world of crime is changing as the result of technology such as smartphones and computers, said Tim Leslie, chief deputy for Dakota County.
A man was found guilty of killing his wife and her unborn child. The husband, Roger Holland, sent text messages to his wife’s cellphone after she was dead and then answered them himself, in an attempt to look like less of a suspect, he said.
Apple Valley police didn’t have anyone who knew how to analyze that kind of evidence, he said, so they called on the county’s two-person electronic crimes unit, in existence since 2003.
More and more, crimes have some sort of electronic component or Internet link, and require specialized knowledge to solve.
“This whole world of cellphones and computers and stuff is a new way for criminals to perpetrate crime on people everywhere,” he said.
In response, the Sheriff’s Office is trying something officials are describing as unique: Partnering with nine cities’ police departments to create a collaborative, countywide electronic crimes investigation unit, similar to the Drug Task Force.
“It’s kind of a new model,” he said. ”It’s something we haven’t tried before.”
Into a kitty
Six cities — West St. Paul, South St. Paul, Mendota Heights, Rosemount, Farmington and Hastings — would each contribute $15,000 yearly to a three-year pilot project, under a tentative agreement.
Apple Valley and Burnsville would provide a full-time officer and the smaller Inver Grove Heights, a part-time officer.
Leslie doesn’t know of another Minnesota county with such a unit, though Wisconsin has a few. “We think this is going to grow, just like the war on drugs,” he said.
The unit will beef up the county’s existing electronic crimes unit, adding staff and funding.
The goal is to get it up and running by January, he said, but there’s still work to be done. A joint powers agreement was just sent out for the cities to sign.
Another project: Coming up with a catchy name for it, he said.
During the pilot period, the unit would be run by a governing board. Each city’s police chief would have a seat.
The cities’ financial contributions will go toward hiring a technician with knowledge of everything from iPads to laptops, iPhones to Android devices.
“What we really need is kind of that technical whiz,” similar to what viewers see on CSI or crime shows, Leslie said.
Software upgrades and specialized training will also be covered by the cities’ money.