CENTRAL POINT, Oregon — Detective Josh Moulin is a criminal forensic expert quite unlike the well-dressed heroes you see stalking bad guys across a fictional Miami every Monday night on CBS.
Instead of measuring knife wounds and blood-spray patterns, Moulin spends his nights performing autopsies on computers. He dissects them in a bland windowless room in the Central Point police station that serves as the newly opened "Digital Evidence Forensic Laboratory".
This high-tech crime unit is a response to the steep rise in computer crimes hitting the Rogue Valley. Moulin investigates everything from eBay scams involving people selling phantom items to "Internet bullies" whose wicked emails and instant messages torment weaker kids on the digital playground.
"You really have the full spectrum of the criminal element," Moulin said of his experiences tracking computer villains.
Moulin is the only officer assigned to the unit. Before this he was the go-to guy around the office when it came to technical matters. He spent nearly four years on patrol before deciding to merge his interest in computers with his law-enforcement background. After a year of training with groups such as the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists, he was ready to design and command Central Point’s lab.
It took around $24,000 to get the operation off the ground. Central Point’s city council came on board after a presentation by Moulin displaying the upside of a high-tech crime unit. Apart from protecting kids from online predators and helping Oregon State Police solve complex fraud cases, the unit could make the city attractive to high-tech businesses. They may be comforted by the police’s ability to investigate employees who hack into and loot their computer systems, Moulin said.
The lab also is equipped to handle cell-phone forensics. This comes in handy particularly in drug cases where dealers conduct business over their phones. He helped make a case two months ago after detectives served a search warrant on a known drug offender’s cell phone. Moulin was able to ferret out deleted text and voice messages naming drop-off points, amounts and slang terms used for methamphetamine and marijuana.
Corrupt hard drives, deleted messages, screen names, fake Web sites — all are the equivalent of smoking guns and fingerprints to Moulin.
"It’s great evidence," he said. "It’s very specific and leaves little to the imagination. It’s either there or it isn’t."
Moulin eventually wants to conduct online undercover operations. He will pose as a young man or woman in chatrooms known to be frequented by sexual predators. The lab is fitted with technology that can trace a predator’s screen name back to its location. Similar agencies have had good luck busting fake Web sites asking for Red Cross donations toward Hurricane Katrina victims.
Moulin looks forward to training local officers in how to handle digital evidence at crime scenes. He wants officers in the field to be able to recognize and collect high-tech items in a way that ensures that no evidence is lost before it is delivered to the lab. He hopes for the day when forensic computer training is incorporated into the police academy.
Moulin said he doesn’t miss chasing drug dealers through backyards and alleys. He enjoys the rush of cracking hard drives and sifting through silicon instead.
"It’s a different kind of excitement," he said. "And it’s a little bit cleaner."