Champlain College has created a regional center for computer forensics with major funding from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). On December 28, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who helped secure the funding, joined Champlain College President David F. Finney on campus to discuss the important role of the new Champlain College Center for Digital Investigation (C3DI), which received a $650,000 grant from the DOJ's Bureau of Justice Assistance.
The new center has been developed to advance three major initiatives. First, two new Champlain faculty members work with federal, state and local law enforcement investigators, performing digital investigations and adding capacity to law enforcement agencies in Vermont. Based at the Burlington Police Department, these investigators sift through digital evidence found on computers, cell phones, iPods and other digital devices so that crucial pieces of evidence can be applied to criminal investigations.
Secondly, these two new faculty members also share their professional experience as they teach courses in Champlain’s Computer & Digital Forensics program. And lastly, the College is creating new online training opportunities that will be available to members of law enforcement in Vermont and across the country.
”Local, state and federal law enforcement officials have seen an explosion of complex electronic crimes,” said Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Leahy also is the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees federal anti-crime programs, and he has led on digital security and privacy issues. “In a time when computers hold the key to everything from terrorist plots to accounting scandals, understanding e-crime and digital forensics is crucial for today’s federal, state and local law enforcement officers and our civilian cyber security personnel. The digital forensics education curriculum that Champlain College has put together is right on point in helping law enforcement professionals succeed in countering cyber criminals. This grant will help the College expand its outreach to the public sector, building a rare and important partnership between academia and law enforcement to improve our effectiveness against these crimes.”
Champlain College President David F. Finney said, “We’re thrilled that the federal government is supporting Champlain’s efforts to both educate professionals in computer forensics and directly support law enforcement activities. Senator Leahy and his staff have been extremely helpful in furthering our outreach. It’s clear that our country needs innovative programs to fight crime today, and Champlain is well-positioned to deliver leading-edge programs both face-to-face and over the Internet.”
The director of the new center is Associate Professor Gary C. Kessler, who also directs Champlain’s Computer & Digital Forensics and Information Security degree programs. Robert Edwards, director of Champlain’s Criminal Justice program, was named associate director of C3DI.
“Computer forensics and digital investigations have become an integral part of police work in the new millennium,” Kessler said. “Computers are now as much a part of the modern law enforcement officer’s daily routine as the baton, sidearm, radio and handcuffs.”
The Center funds two part-time digital forensics examiner positions to assist Vermont law enforcement in criminal digital investigations. Reporting to the Vermont Internet Crimes Task Force and housed at the Burlington Police Department, these new positions increase the state’s digital evidence examination capacity by about 20 percent, Kessler estimated.
Today, many crimes have computer-based evidence and Vermont has just a handful of examiners. Burlington Police Chief Thomas Tremblay said, “This program and partnership are innovative and necessary given the limited resources and funding available to local law enforcement to take on new and highly technical responsibilities.”
The new, part-time examiners spend the other part of their week on the Champlain campus teaching students in the College’s three-year-old Computer & Digital Forensics program -- the first bachelor’s degree program of its kind in New England and the only such program in the nation offered online. These instructors teach on campus and online in positions that are funded for three years.
The grant also supports an online training initiative that allows Champlain College to share its expertise with law enforcement from Seattle to Boston. The College is creating online programs that train law enforcement in computer forensics through the Vermont Police Academy and Vermont Internet Crimes Task Force, as well as through two national law enforcement training organizations.
These organizations currently conduct face-to-face training -- which requires officers to travel to major cities for training. “We all agree that it’s possible to reach about 98 percent of American law enforcement if we create online training in appropriate topics, and it’s more cost effective when it is provided online,” Kessler said.
Currently, Champlain’s Computer & Digital Forensics program enrolls approximately 150 students -- nearly half are traditional, on-campus students and the rest are enrolled online from as far away as California and Texas. Some of the online students are already members of the law enforcement community and they work their online education around their careers.
This is Champlain’s second federal grant for computer forensics education. In 2004, the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice awarded Champlain College a $185,000 grant to further develop the college’s digital forensics program. Champlain’s program was hailed as the national educational model for undergraduate computer forensics education.
Article reprinted with permission (K. Surette) and sponsored by Criminal Justice leadership; and, police and military personnel who have written books.