Grant will allow Clanton Police to pull data off cell phones

Published 4:04 pm Monday, May 9, 2016

Clanton Police Department will soon have state-of-the-art digital forensics equipment and training that will allow it to pull information off cell phones.

Grants totaling $9,000 from the U.S. Justice Department were announced Monday by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

ADECA administers an array of programs supporting law enforcement and traffic safety, economic development, energy conservation, water resource management and recreation development

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley notified Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver that the grants had been approved, according to a press release.

The police department will purchase hardware called Cellebrite that enables officers and investigators to examine and extract digital evidence from cell phones in criminal investigations.

Police officials said the new equipment will hasten and simplify investigations because the department will no longer have to send cell phones to an offsite lab for examination.

Such investigations would require consent from the property owner or a search warrant, as outlined in the Fourth Amendment.

If police obtained a cell phone they thought contained information relevant to a case, the phone could be simply plugged in to the Cellebrite computer, which would provide access to photographs, text messages, call logs and other information on the phone, CPD Capt. Neil Fetner said.

Fetner said the equipment will cost $9,085, a total covered almost completely by the grants.

Capt. David Clackley will serve as the department’s computer forensics expert. He has received training at the National Computer Forensics Institute’s location in Hoover and will return in September to receive certification, Fetner said.

“He will be recognized in court as a computer forensics expert,” Fetner said of Clackley.

The forensics equipment would be purchased and delivered by the time Clackley receives his certification.

“Cell phones are part of our day-to-day operations,” Fetner said about the prevalence of investigators using information available on phones. “It happens more often than you would think.”

Without the equipment and certified investigators at its disposal, police deliver cell phones to NCFI in Hoover for processing—tying up an officer for about an hour’s drive time and forcing officers to wait on a third party to deliver contents of the phone, which could take anywhere from a week to a month or longer.

“It’s going to make things a lot more streamlined,” Fetner said about the department having its own equipment and certified investigator. “This is another tool in our toolbelt when it comes to dealing with those types of cases.”

CPD would also offer computer forensics services to other police agencies in Chilton County, as required by the department’s partnership with NCFI, Fetner said.