New law, grants will make officers’ tough jobs a little easier

Published 11:14 am Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Law enforcement officers have tough jobs.

This has always been the case and would remain so even without changes in the societal, criminal and legal landscapes that make their jobs even more difficult.

Thankfully, officers get some help every now and then.

Recent legislation that will affect all local police agencies and a grant received by Clanton Police Department will allow local officers to do their jobs more effectively.

Legislation signed into law by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on May 10 will give police officers greater authority to issue tickets and make arrests in some traffic cases.

The law will go into effect Aug. 1 and have an effect on local police and the traffic cases they work, Clanton Police Department Capt. Neil Fetner said.

“Prior to this law going into effect in August, officers—no matter whether it’s state, county or municipalities—we are not authorized to make arrests or write tickets for things that do not physically occur in our presence.”

The law would apply to wrecks and other traffic cases.

Officers already investigate wrecks for violations but are not authorized to issue citations if they did not see them happen.

Meanwhile, CPD will soon have state-of-the-art digital forensics equipment and training that will allow it to pull information off cell phones in certain cases.

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

The police department will purchase hardware called Cellebrite that enables officers an investigators to examine and extract digital evidence form cell phones during the course of a criminal investigation.

Police officials said the new equipment would 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, Fetner said.

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.

“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.

We are glad to see the new law and the announcement of grants for CPD—both of which will make officers’ tough jobs a little easier.