FRESNO, CALIFORNIA – A new initiative designed to combat cyber crime in California includes retrofitting a mobile command vehicle as a digital forensics laboratory that can be dispatched to more traditional crime scenes.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris
California Attorney General Kamala Harris |

The mobile digital forensics lab will be part of a new California Cyber Crime Center (C4), an initiative within the California Department of Justice. The creation of C4 was announced by Attorney General Kamala Harris at a gathering in Fresno.

While the new center will focus to a large degree on combating cybercrimes such as identity theft, online exploitation and hacking, the Cyber Response Vehicle (CRV) will be sent to crime scenes if there is a digital element, such as a need to quickly unlock phones, computers or other devices on site.

Harris said of the mobile lab that it gives law enforcement the ability to quickly garner evidence from electronic devices at a crime scene.

"For us to have the ability out in the field to download that data to our officers is critical and that is how it helps us in local law enforcement,” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said when the creation of the cyber crime center was announced at the gathering in California State University, Fresno. He said the unit will help speed up investigations by uncovering crucial evidence.

Harris told the Northern California Record the center was important to combat increasingly alarming sophistication.

“As the world becomes increasingly digital and crime evolves, the tools we use to prevent, investigate and prosecute crime must keep pace,” Harris said in a statement.

The attorney general added, “Criminals are operating online with alarming sophistication, committing identity theft, hacking, cyber exploitation and other crimes that involve technology, and law enforcement must stay one step ahead.”

She said the center “brings legal, technical, and forensic capabilities to law enforcement across the state, helping our partners combat crime and building on our commitment to bring innovation to government.”

The center, although based in the Central Valley, will provide services for law enforcement across the state. This is especially important given that not every law enforcement agency has the resources needed to investigate cyber crimes in-house, it is reasoned.

It will bring together investigatory and prosecution expertise with cutting-edge digital forensic science and cyber-security know-how, according to the attorney general’s office.

The focus is not only on cybercrime as it is widely understood – such as an individual or group remotely committing crimes. Traditional crimes with a digital component, where it is felt key information could be held on a cell phone or other device and needs to be accessed quickly, is also a focus of the initiative.

The CRV is a repurposed Mobile Command Vehicle that was retrofitted into a digital forensics laboratory. It allows multiple staff to collect, acquire and process media, mobile devices, personal computers, servers and other sources of electronically stored information on-site during the course of an investigation, the AG’s office explained.

In addition, the office says it has developed a digital forensics training program for local agencies, on topics including how to obtain digital evidence search warrants, extraction and analysis of evidence, and digital investigative support. Since 2012, personnel at 178 agencies have received this type of training.

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