Law Enforcement

How to beat the cost of crime-solving tech

PII (jijomathaidesigners/ 

Ten years from now, the biggest federal law enforcement agencies will be critical partners of their smaller state and local counterparts, helping them with technical, complex and expensive crime solving capabilities, according to some law enforcement experts.

Crime solving technologies -- from developing algorithms, to unlocking encrypted smart phones, to probing the dark web, to analyzing DNA evidence -- are becoming commonplace in solving or preventing crimes across the country.

One of law enforcement's biggest challenges is how to pay for those capabilities, said David Denton, deputy assistant director, cyber, at Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations operations.

Criminals, he said in panel remarks at the May 9 AFCEA Bethesda's Law Enforcement and Public Safety Technology Forum, are adept at leveraging technology. Tech-savvy crooks are hiding behind the anonymity of the dark web, obscuring their identities on crime scene videos or using encryption to conceal criminal activity.

Solutions for solving tech-based offenses can be "out of reach" for small federal agencies and state and local law enforcement, he said.  Increasingly, those crimes will be solved by big federal law enforcement agencies, such as HSI which is the second largest criminal investigative agency behind the FBI.

While small law enforcement operations have relied on effective, free technology, such as a "scraper" that helped disrupt the notorious Backpage site that listed child traffickers' ads, those applications will probably lose their effectiveness as criminals advance technically, Denton told FCW.

The scraper used to find child ads on Backpage, Dento said, was developed by Thorn, a nonprofit organization that leverages technology against child exploitation. The group was originally formed in 2009 by actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher to help law enforcement battle child exploitation.

"That technology costs money" to develop, Denton said, and groups may not be able to afford to provide it at no cost forever, particularly as technology rushes ahead and agile criminals continue to have a tech advantage over law enforcement.

Capabilities and technical complexity of encrypted smart phones and other mobile technology will continue to evolve, said Gurvais Grigg, assistant director of the FBI's laboratory division. Managing that constant data stream from those devices will challenge law enforcement in the coming years, he said.

The number of requests for help from local police in accessing encrypted smart phones is growing quickly. Tech solutions that provide that access are costly, and agencies with deeper pockets and research capabilities like HSI and the FBI will be crucial in helping smaller organizations manage the expense.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


  • Defense
    Ryan D. McCarthy being sworn in as Army Secretary Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo credit: Sgt. Dana Clarke/U.S. Army)

    Army wants to spend nearly $1B on cloud, data by 2025

    Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said lack of funding or a potential delay in the JEDI cloud bid "strikes to the heart of our concern."

  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

Stay Connected


Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.