HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A new lab specializing in digital forensics is operating in Huntsville, Alabama, the only forensics lab on a military installation.
The FBI and local leaders held a ceremony Wednesday to mark the opening of the Tennessee Valley Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory (TVRCFL). The lab is the first to open in nine years with another planned to open this year in the Boston area.
The 3.4 million dollar center is one of 17 such facilities nationwide specializing in training and the analysis of digital evidence.
“The crimes range the whole gamut. So it can range from homicide, instances of kiddie porn, child pornography, fraud. Any type of crime that you might imagine where a digital media device, whether it be a smartphone, a tablet, or laptop is used to facilitate the commission of that crime, we can now bring it here to the Tennessee Valley RCFL,” said Johnnie Sharp Jr, special agent in charge of the FBI Birmingham Division.
The FBI will provide the facility, equipment and training for the lab. Local agencies will provide staffing for the center including the City of Huntsville Police Department; sheriff’s departments in Etowah and Madison counties; and the Alabama National Guard Counterdrug program.
Eight different forensic examiners work at the lab, including a Huntsville Police Officer and a Madison County Sheriff’s Office investigator.
Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning says the partnership is immensely valuable. It gives access to tools his department wouldn’t have access to otherwise. “It would’ve been taxing on any agency, I don’t care what size it would be. For us to be able to get the amount of training and the equipment that’s been afforded to our deputy that has been assigned here. It would’ve been a thing that we just could not afford.”
Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray says the training is helping more than just his investigator assigned to the TVRCFL. “He is now training other investigators in our department. So, we keep using the word force multiplier that’s because that one agent brings all the skills to the police department, front and center.”
The task force is making a major difference in the speed of digital forensic investigations.
“When you have a national security matter or a terrorism matter, you need to get into those devices immediately. You need to have whatever real-time information you can glean whether it be a tablet, or a phone, or a hard drive,” said U.S. Attorney Jay Town.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for north Alabama will help as a prosecuting agency. The temporary lab is located at Redstone Arsenal and will be moved to a permanent brick and mortar on the Arsenal in 3-5 years.
Federal prosecutors say having this state-of-the-art digital forensic lab in the southeast will expedite investigations and prosecutions.