Frontline police officers in Nova Scotia are now being trained to handle cybercrime cases, thanks to a new RCMP-led workshop. The single-day course gives officers the knowledge and tools to tackle any case with a cyber or technological element: from fraud and identity theft to online child exploitation and cyberbullying.
Run by the RCMP's Technological Crime Unit (TCU) in Nova Scotia, the Cybercrime Investigations Workshop explains what resources are available to RCMP and municipal police officers.
"The frontline guy might not be an expert, but they can refer members of the public to our specialized units," says Sgt. Royce MacRae, who's in charge of Nova Scotia's TCU. "It's making sure all police know what to do when that call comes to the office — to prevent tragedies like Rehtaeh Parsons."
In 2013, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide after months of intense online bullying in Cole Harbour, N.S., just outside of Halifax. Two years prior, the young teen was sexually assaulted by four boys at a party, who took a photo of the assault and circulated it via social media.
Parsons and her family went to police where a year-long investigation took place but no charges were laid. It wasn't until Parson's death that the case was reopened and two of the boys involved were charged and sentenced for child pornography-related offences.
"After the Rehtaeh Parsons case, there was an identified need for better education," says Cpl. Christian Hochhold, a member of the TCU who created the workshop. "Members in the front line just didn't know where to start."
The right direction
The Cybercrime Investigations Workshop is a crash course in Internet and technology crimes for police officers of all skill levels. The single-day course starts with an introduction explaining what tech crime is, and how Nova Scotia's TCU can help with just about any investigation.
"The main takeaway is to call us," says Cst. Todd Bromley, a member of the TCU who instructs the workshop. "We can help with your domestics, your frauds, your thefts, your drug deals. Every crime has a technological component these days, and there's a lot we can bring to the table."
He says technology has changed the way crime is done, and that police need to keep up with the technology — and the laws and procedures that govern it — in order to do their job.
"When you do a drug bust, those dealers have computers that they use to get more clients, transfer money and keep track of their supplies," says Bromley. "Technology has enabled criminals to be better at what they do, but it can leave an electronic trail of evidence. We teach police how to get that evidence correctly so it can be used in an investigation."
Once officers are familiar with tech crimes, the RCMP's Legal Applications Support Team goes over recent case law related to seizing computer evidence, obtaining search warrants for electronic devices and any changes to legislation.
"We talk about a lot of the legal pitfalls with investigations," says Bromley. "There's a legal term called 'the fruits of the poisoned tree,' which means any piece of evidence that's been improperly processed, we lose. It's a minefield. You have to know the case law."
Then, the Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) team explains their role, encouraging all police officers to immediately contact an ICE unit if they come across a case involving a minor and sexually explicit material.
Bromley also explains how to properly seize electronic devices — he recommends taking out the SIM card or wrapping the device in tin foil to prevent it from accessing the Internet. He also goes over online services and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat and how police can get information from them.
"It clears up some of the fog and mystery around these sorts of things, and puts it into an official step-by-step way," says Hochhold. "Since the workshops began, we've seen more investigations, better investigations and more evidence being properly seized and handled."
Hochhold hopes to have all police officers in Nova Scotia trained in the workshop by the end of 2017.
"At the end of the day, members, while inundated with cases, still have to take the time to know technologies," he says. "If you're frontline, you need to learn how to preserve digital evidence and data."