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DIGGING DEEPER: Seized cellphone helping solve crimes

TUCSON – From investigating crimes against children to homicides, detectives are using cell phones as a tool to help them put those responsible behind bars.

News 4 Tucson’s Digging Deeper team was granted exclusive access to the Computer Forensics Lab at the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.

Every year, PCSD’s forensic team is flooded with requests to analyze cell phones. First, they have to obtain a warrant. That is standard for practically every case.  Detectives asked a judge permission to look at cell phones.

“The detectives write a good search warrant and the judge approves it,” PCSD Det. Matt Schilb said. “We also then vet it here to make sure it covers everything we need to cover because we are also held liable too.”

The phones are packaged and placed into evidence. It is then sent to the computer forensics lab to get analyzed.

Due to the sensitivity of the equipment and computer programs, News 4 Tucson was not allowed to video the restricted area.  The team did learn the unique and highly trained team of detectives is working to gather digital information to help in investigations.

“Cell phones are a huge investigative tool for us.  It’s your life you go everywhere with your cell phone,” Schilb said. “We get a lot of information off cell phones.”

This includes Information on cases ranging from sexual assaults, child pornography and homicides. They also look into drug cases

“You kind of want to see what kind of text messages they’re communicating,” Schlib said. “How are they communicating? Are they using social media, or are they using texting apps?”

They also look at pictures, some of them are frightening such as the cartel videos where the detective said the cell phones showed videos of people getting dismembered. There are also videos of shootouts with federales in Mexico.

The detectives said they have to stay on top of technology so they go through a lot of training.

In the six years Schilb has been in the unit, he went from analyzing the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 11.

He said cell phone security is a must right now. In their training, they have to learn how to break that.

“That is a huge thing for us because we have to pay for this software,” he said. “We have to make sure they’re staying on top of it so we can stay on top of the Apple, and Android and Windows phone.”

Yearly, the unit receives 700 requests from their department along with federal agencies.  All this in an effort to keep the community safe.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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