Tarrant County

Tarrant DA's Digital Forensic Unit Gets New Lab

Solving crimes and getting guilty verdicts is like everything else these days—it often depends on technology.

In Tarrant County, the district attorney's office says its digital forensic team is one of the best in the country, but even it had room for improvement.

From surveillance cameras to your cell phone, laptop and external drive, they're a part of every day life and a crucial piece of criminal investigations in our modern world.

"Basically anything that's digital we can touch here," said Kyle Gibson, a forensic computer analyst and investigator for the DA's office. "There could be video on every criminal case. There can be a computer or some kind of digital device in every criminal case."

And so a number of years ago the DA's office started training investigators in the art of gathering, interpreting and using digital forensic evidence for cases. The five member Digital Forensic and Technical Services (DFATS) unit had been spread among different supervisors and departments within the DA's office until they moved under one roof last month.

On Thursday, the DA's office showed off the new lab to members of the media. By being under one roof, and actually just down the hall from one another, forensic work can be easily passed from one expert to another and there is now a one-stop shop for prosecutors and law enforcement to get critical evidence.

"So any time we can speed up the flow, speed up the process is going to benefit everybody involved," Gibson said.

The work that is involved includes breaking down video, pulling data from computers and getting into password protected cell phones. The experts can also find information someone thought they may have deleted, but is actually still on the drive.

Of course, the information isn't just used to help prove cases in court to ensure a guilty verdict. The unit also helps with cases that are far from solved and may have just happened.

"We shut down whatever we were currently working on and start that immediate case because of the need," Gibson said.

That's exactly what investigators did earlier this week for an Amber Alert out of Benbrook. It's the same kind of response they had two years ago following the murder of 6-year-old Alana Gallagher in Saginaw.

"We immediately responded there. We went and did cell phones and things on scene and at the [police department] in Saginaw," Gibson said. "We then came back here with computers and had them all running and trying to get stuff up as quickly as possible."

In just the last three years the unit has assisted 61 agencies in eight different counties with such work. It's work that is now as commonplace as interviews with witnesses and suspects in the pursuit of justice.

The forensic team also assisted with video for the Kaufman County District Attorney murders case.

While created in-part with grant money the DA's office now pays for the unit on its own.

The DA's office says the unit is important because of the 40 law enforcement agencies in Tarrant County only two have dedicated digital forensic employees.

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