Criminals today exploit a vast digital landscape—phones, computers, cloud storage—leaving a scattered trail of evidence. Beyond acquiring these disparate sets of data, investigators also face the challenge of analyzing, manually connecting dots and building a comprehensive picture. Recognizing that hurdle, the Nampa, Idaho Police Department’s Digital Forensics Lab took steps and made the proper investments to make sure that the investigative process, from case-to-closure, is as streamlined as possible.

Y2K Beginnings

The Nampa Police Department established its digital forensics lab in the early 2000s when technology began permeating law enforcement investigations. However, as technology evolved, so did the unit’s responsibilities, expanding to encompass mobile phones, computers, tablets and other digital devices. Spearheaded by Detective Cameron Cowdery, with 24 years of combined experience in patrol, CID, special investigations and DEA task forces, NPD’s digital forensics lab has become indispensable not just in NPD’s investigative process but also for agencies in neighboring counties.

“In the last three years, we’ve been right on track to be around 25 to 30 devices a month,” Det. Cowdery says, a testament to the unit’s effectiveness. Support from the agency is critical, enabling Det. Cowdery and his team to acquire crucial tools like Cellebrite Premium, UFED, Pathfinder, Guardian and more.

Running this full arsenal of digital forensics solutions, Det. Cowdery and team have continuously demonstrated their investigative edge at every step of the process, often putting forth digital evidence that helps close cases or unravel a larger web of crime that would otherwise be overlooked.
Det. Cowdery highlights three cases that illustrate the above, starting with one that demonstrates how having the right digital forensics tools at the right time can help break cases wide open.

“Right out of the box, Premium did its job and gave us solid probable cause for an arrest warrant and to take them to a grand jury.”

Pandora’s Box in an iPhone

In a drive-by shooting investigation, Det. Cowdery says they had a person who was shot and left paralyzed. The lab received an iPhone XR related to the crime, and initially didn’t have the solutions available to access and extract data from the device. Without strong evidence, the case ran the risk of running cold.

When Det. Cowdery got the Cellebrite Premium solution (now part of Cellebrite Inseyets), they “managed to get in it [iPhone XR] the day we got the solution installed,” Det. Cowdery recalls. “We ended up finding pretty significant content in the device, linking the owner of the phone to the actual shooting and numerous other crimes that had occurred before the shooting. Right out of the box, Premium did its job and gave us solid probable cause for an arrest warrant and to take them to a grand jury.”

Pathfinder Connects to Dots in Stalking Case

The detective also details an instance that showcased digital forensics solutions’ ability to connect more dots faster than was traditionally possible.

It was a stalking case and the women who feared for her life brought Detective Cowdery three devices to start. That list grew to nine associated devices.

The initial phase of the investigation involved manually searching through the data extracted from the devices provided by the victim. Detective Cowdery describes the complexity of managing multiple extractions and correlating information across different devices.

“I’m having to pull up all three extractions on two computer screens and go in between each extraction to look at his [the suspect’s] phone and her two phones that she brought us,” he explains.

However, the investigative process was eased with automated digital evidence analysis. “With the help of Pathfinder, it makes that organization so much easier by ingesting everything together. To show where it’s coming from,” Det. Cowdery notes.

Tools like Cellebrite Pathfinder enable Detective Cowdery and his team to efficiently organize and analyze vast amounts of data, uncovering critical evidence that ultimately leads to the successful resolution of the case – the woman’s ex-husband was arrested – accused of doing the stalking.

“Pathfinder’s been able to organize that data much, much, much easier than we could by ourselves,” acknowledges Detective Cowdery.

Homicide to Human Trafficking

Wrapping up his repertoire of successful cases, the detective recalls one that highlights the importance of cloud-based evidence management solutions: a shooting that unveiled a sinister human trafficking web involving minors.

“We have a homicide that occurred here in Nampa. The suspects was from the area. At the same time the homicide occurred, we found out he is smack dab in the middle of a giant human trafficking group,” Det. Cowdery recalls.

“Our neighboring jurisdiction is looking at him as the brain running a human trafficking organization. The investigator from there has a chart of all her known players, so far, that are involved in this human trafficking case that she’s been working on,” Det. Cowdery explained, revealing there were 59 suspects on said chart.

With so many players on the board, the investigation pushed the boundaries not only when it came to devices and data that needed to be accessed and extracted, yet also the ability to share all that data back and forth between relevant parties. A monumental task that was made more efficient with a cloud-based solution that NPD employs internally. In a keystroke, Det. Cowdery can share full case data with anyone, without the tedious storage drive juggling and delivery.

“Because of Cellebrite Guardian, we’re able to move this data between ourselves at a much more accelerated pace and share these large extractions between all parties involved,” he says.

Police made arrests and the case is still moving forward. With the increasing stockpile of data, Det. Cowdery is confident they will connect more dots with the help of Cellebrite Pathfinder, pulling more perpetrators out of the shadows and serving swift justice.

Looking Forward

As Det. Cameron Cowdery approaches retirement, his reflections offer a comprehensive overview of the Nampa Police Department’s digital forensics lab’s achievements, challenges and its indispensable role in modern law enforcement.

By embracing cutting-edge solutions for each step in the investigative process, the NPD is not only streamlining processes but also advancing justice and fostering inter-agency collaboration.