When it comes to fighting cyber crime, the odds are against state and local law enforcement agencies. In an era of increasing computer-based crime, agencies are struggling to keep up while facing a lack of resources and limited training opportunities.

"The problem is how local law enforcement can cope with this type of crime in terms of training and equipment," said Jim Polley, director of government affairs of the National District Attorneys Association. "The bad guys can use the latest technology and they dont have to go through the government procurement practices, among other things."

Private Affair

By most accounts, law enforcement is not coping well. The equipment is expensive; $4,000 will get you one forensic machine, but thats just the beginning. All but the richest jurisdictions tend to be ill equipped to fight computer-related crime. And even with the resources, experts say, the training necessary to use the tools properly is scarce. One solution is to turn to the private sector for help. There are pros and cons to this approach, but it is working in Wayne County, Mich., and is in the future for North Carolina.

"With the lack of government resources, law enforcement needs to turn to private business for help with computer technology," said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. "Its clear that the criminals are outracing us in the technology area."

Cooper is in the process of forming public/private partnerships with North Carolina businesses to help local law enforcement, and specifically the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), with the computer forensics equipment and training needed to help track these crimes.

"Were going to use public/private partnerships, not only to glean resources from private industry, such as help with training and computer software and hardware, but also - to train local law enforcement on the rudimentary aspects of how to deal with the computer (as evidence) when they find it, who to call and how to preserve it until an expert gets there," Cooper said.

Kathleen Barch, deputy director of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI), said computer crime is everywhere. With no state police in Ohio, the BCI is the only agency with state authority. It was one of the first jurisdictions in the country to build a high-tech crime unit. "I got out the old 88-county map and tracked all the cases that weve had in the last four years," said Barch. "Out of 88, we only had one county that hadnt asked for our assistance in the area. Thats what has a lot of people perplexed -- it isnt just a large-county crime."

Affording the Pursuit

The nature of computer-related crimes runs the gamut from financial crimes, including identity theft and the sale of nonexistent merchandise on the Internet, to violent crimes, such as rape and murder. Barch said that 65 percent of BCIs caseload now involves physical injury. One of the big concerns is with child predators. "Child predators dont cruise the playground as much as they cruise the Internet now," Cooper said.

But tracking and catching perpetrators is an expensive proposition, as Ohios BCI found when it began forming its five-member crime unit in 1997. The cost was more than BCI bargained for back then and, not surprisingly, the price tag has continued to rise.

Barch has a recommendation for agencies planning to form a high-tech crime unit: Plan on spending $20,000, minimum, per person as a start-up cost, which doesnt include costs such as printing, upgrades and evidentiary maintenance.

In Ohio, evidence in a criminal case has to be maintained for six to seven years. If it has blood on it, that is increased to 20 years. If it involves a homicide, its maintained forever. The courts have yet to rule on some

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor