Using Technology to Assist in Criminal Investigations (a post by Geri Brandt, Assistant Professor Criminal Justice and Criminology)

In the early morning hours of May 2009, a small neighborhood awoke to police sirens breaking the silence in Columbia, Illinois. Christopher Coleman called his neighbor to inform him that he had repeatedly calling his wife at home, and failing to contact her became extremely worried. The neighbor was Detective Justin Barlow of the Columbia, Illinois Police Department. Since it was a school day, and his wife and children (Garett, 11 and Gavin, 9), would normally be starting their morning routine, Chris Coleman asked his neighbor to check on the family. What the detective discovered in the home made national news.

Aside from the overwhelming trace and physical evidence indicative of a triple homicide, which had taken place inside the Coleman home, a simple cell phone ‘ping’ would connect Christopher Coleman to the murder of this wife and sons, (along with other damaging evidence). He had originally told homicide detectives that he was in the unincorporated south St. Louis County area driving to his gym. Once the case detectives obtained a search warrant for this cell phone records, the transcripts would show that he was actually calling from a location near Dupo, Illinois to check on his family, not where he had originally informed detectives. This form of forensic technology is called “pinging.” Although the ping hit/transcript will not yield the exact location of the person in question, it does provide any investigative tool that discloses the exact tower where the cell phone signal ‘hit’ off, sending the signal back to the user phone. Although cell phone records are protected under The Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006, with the proper documentation provided by law enforcement, these records must be disclosed.

The above-mentioned story may not be considered a ‘high-tech’ method in helping with criminal investigations when compared to the pervasive use of drones in our society, digital DNA printing, recon robots, and the more popular use of iPads, however, technology is assisting law enforcement agencies throughout our nation every day in the apprehension of offenders and solving crimes.

Submitted by Geriann Brandt M.A.
Associate Professor of Criminal Justice/ Criminology