BLOOMINGTON — Staying one step ahead of those who use their skills to steal from strangers and victimize children is the focus of the Bloomington Police Department's cybercrimes unit.
Detective Josh Swartzentruber told an audience at Tuesday's BPD focus group that the two-man unit investigates a wide range of crimes involving computers, cellphones and other devices.
"Computer crimes are no longer just crimes committed against other computers or networks," said the detective.
Swartzentruber, who also works with the U.S. Secret Service cybercrimes task force, estimated that 85 percent of his time is spent on child pornorgraphy and other crimes that victimize minors. Swartzentruber's partner, Detective Bill Lynn, shares his time with the FBI unit investigating computer-related offenses.
Child pornography cases can take up to a year to investigate, said Swatzentruber, because of the voluminous amount of material stored on hard drives seized by police.
The majority of the child pornography cases are handled by the U.S. attorney's office in Peoria where federal prosecutors have the ability to seek harsher sentences, according to the detective.
Training never ends for detectives who investigate cybercrimes.
"Our daily life is spent reading and researching what we need to do to stay ahead of the bad guys," Swartzentruber told the audience.
Police Chief Brendan Heffner said the city budget includes about $25,000 annually for training for Lynn and Swartzentruber. The specialized training has been used to help other local police agencies that don't have the tools to investigate complex internet crimes, said Heffner.
Several residents expressed concern that their personal information and credit card data could be compromised. The detective advised them to only use a Wi-Fi connection that's secured with a password to avoid others from accessing information and check that internet links to banks are secure.
Swartzentruber shared his own experience of having his credit card compromised by a person in Tampa, Fla. Further theft was halted after the credit card company called the detective to verify the breach.
The theft of credit card numbers is a problem that goes beyond the U.S., but a few precautions can protect consumers, said the detective. Restaurants that offer credit card transactions to be handled by customers on a device at the table or complete the payment process in clear view of customers limits the chance that a theft, or skimming, of the card will occur.
Cellphones are a major source of information for police in all sorts of crimes.
"Cellphones are little computers," said Swartzentruber, that allow police to retrieve messages, texts, phone records and documents related to a crime.
The cybercrimes unit supporters the criminal investigations division on cases involving deaths, drugs, identity theft, fraud and infiltration of bank accounts.
Cellphone data also play a major role in domestic violence cases, said the detective, if there are records of conversations between the victim and offender.
Among the cases where the unit has supplied information to prosecutors is the homicide investigation into the death of Pam Zimmerman in Bloomington. Detectives collected information from suspect Kirk Zimmerman's car that allegedly shows where he traveled after his former wife was killed in November 2014.