INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- New technology made the difference in cracking IMPD’s latest tampering investigation against one of their own.
IMPD’s Special Investigations Unit first interviewed IMPD officer Francisco Olmos two years ago, right after an 18-year-old he had been communicating with committed suicide.
For years, detectives had the 18-year-old’s phone, but had no way to see what exactly was on it because there was a passcode on it.
“Unless you have the passcode or the PIN number or something, it’s fairly difficult to figure out what’s on the phone because that’s the point of encryption,” said Vinayak Tanksale, a computer science professor at Ball State.
According to family members interviewed, her phone never had a passcode on it before her death.
The detective who responded to the scene became worried that the phone was inaccessible after Olmos was seen using it.
According to charging documents, Olmos said “he’d rather not” turn over his phone. So in November 2015 IMPD used an outside company to try to access the teen’s phone.
They tried again in May and July 2016.
It finally came back extracted in October 2016, but the detective still didn’t have everything needed to make a solid case. Tanksale says that’s not uncommon, even if a phone is fully extracted.
“You may not be able to get all of it, but at least bits and pieces so that you can put the story together,” said Tanksale. “Almost pieces of a puzzle without having the whole puzzle put together.”
The detective tried once more in 2017 when the technology advanced again, possibly enough to give them manual access to the phone and corroborate the earlier data.
This time, the data showed the detective 308 calls between Olmos and the young woman over six weeks, including 22 the day she died.
Documents show the software also recovered including these 12 texts, sent the day she died and deleted after her body was found.
Tanksale says the charging documents’ timeline show how, with enough time, today’s best encryption can be cracked.
“I mean, it’s not completely foolproof,” said Tanksale. “There are things, advances in technology that are happening that will make solving such cases a little easier.”
The professor tells me they’re seeing more and more students choosing the digital forensics minor at Ball State.
He says that trend is likely to continue as the need increases for state and local police departments to crack cases with the evidence held on our phones.