Area cities join collaborative electronic crime investigation program

This year marks the beginning of a new era for many police departments in Dakota County, in terms of how they handle crimes that involve the Internet and electronic devices.

Last November several Dakota County cities entered into a cooperative agreement with the county to participate in a collaborative law enforcement task force called the Electronic Crimes Unit, a localized version of the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Minnesota Cyber Crime Task Force. Other cities say they plan to join soon.

For $15,000 per year, or a transferred officer to the Electronic Crimes Unit, each department gains full access to the Hastings-based unit, meaning all suspicious electronic activities or items can be sent directly to the special unit for investigation.

This sum of money and manpower, reportedly expected to eventually come in from all Dakota County cities but two — Egan and Lakeville — will be funneled into further developing the ECU, said Dakota County Sheriff  Tim Leslie.

According to Leslie, the ECU has grown from one officer in 2003 to six individuals now working together to investigate crimes where electronic devices might in some way be involved. And with it, said Leslie, the need has also grown.

“There’s a prevalence of technology in our lives,” Leslie said. “It’s here to stay. When someone dies suspiciously now, the first thing [police] do is look at their phone and computer.”

Not all crime investigators are trained to work with such sensitive and possibly incriminating technology, said West St. Paul Police Chief Bud Shaver.

“In simple terms — you know Best Buy’s Geek Squad? — it’s kind of like that. Not everyone has the know-how for all this. The ECU does.”

The special unit is a three-year pilot program. “At the end of the third year, we’ll go, ‘What do you think?’” Leslie said. “Want to keep going? It’ll be interesting to see where it’s gonna go.”

The Inver Grove Heights Police Department plans to sign the joint powers agreement, but has not yet entered into the program because instead of paying $15,000, the department chose instead to contribute an officer.

With intentions of hiring two new officers by July 1, Chief Larry Stanger said the department should be able to send an experienced officer to join the ECU team in Hastings.   

“All this has to go through the city council,” Stanger explained. “So these aren’t hard facts yet. But it looks like it’s a great opportunity.”  

Stanger said he looks forward to joining the collaborative. “We won’t know how it will change things until we experience it,” he said. “I guess it’ll be quicker. It should be better.”

The speed in which police can determine facts in the course of an investigation is important, Leslie said. The goal is to have the ECU shorten the amount of time needed to investigative electronic crimes.

“They’re here pounding away,” Leslie said. “Always busy.”

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.
 

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