Vigo, ISU now an 'Indiana High Tech Crime Unit'

Tribune-Star file/Lisa TriggSleuths: Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt swears in investigators (from left) Carla Morales, Courtney Hughes and Christinea Winesberry during an April 16 ceremony in Vigo Superior Court 1.

A partnership between Indiana State University and local law enforcement has been chosen as one of 10 host locations for an Indiana High Tech Crime Unit.

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council has designated Vigo County as a hub to assist prosecutors with the processing of digital evidence in Clay, Fountain, Hendricks, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan and Vermillion counties.

Vigo, ISU now an 'Indiana High Tech Crime Unit'

Terry Modesitt

Vigo County launched its own forensics partnership in April by adding three ISU interns from the criminology department. The program has been involved with 22 investigations ranging from property crimes and surveillance video to cracking cellular devices in homicide cases.

After a statewide program was established, Vigo County relied on that experience as it applied to be a hub serving multiple locations.

“In becoming a Hub HTCU, we will be begin to adopt procedures to allow those other counties in our area of service to submit their cases for digital forensic analysis,” Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt said. “We hope to have those procedures in place by Jan. 1, 2022.”

The number of intern investigators could be expanded based on the referrals to the program, he said.

Due to legislation enacted during the 2021 statehouse session, IPAC was able to fund 10 regional hubs, geographically located throughout the state to cover all 92 counties.

“We are extremely excited about these new programs and the impact they will have on the criminal justice system,” IPAC Executive Director Chris Naylor said. “We’re incredibly thankful for the work of Rep. Greg Steuerwald for championing this bill, all the lawmakers who helped on the legislation and to our university partners who are working alongside prosecutors to make these units possible.”

With these programs and partnerships with local universities, prosecutor offices work hand in hand with local law enforcement and college students to analyze and process digital evidence. The result will be faster turnaround for investigations and more thorough investigations, leading to more just outcomes for everyone involved in the legal system.

Every county and every prosecutor office will have access to state-of-the-art technology to which they previously had no access.

The selection of the 10 hubs was a five-month process.

“This grant award is the result of the work put in by Indiana State University, the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, and the Terre Haute Police Department,” Modesitt said. “We are thankful for their efforts that started this program for our local law enforcement agencies and look forward to assisting agencies from the seven other area counties.”

In the coming months, the hubs will begin purchasing the necessary software and hardware and hiring staff for the high tech units with the goal of the units being fully operational in early 2022.

Vigo County became interested in the HTCU in January 2020 after the St. Joseph County prosecutor presented his HTCU program to the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney's Council Winter Conference. That program is in conjunction with University of Notre Dame.

Vigo County initiated discussions with the criminology department at ISU in January 2020 about forming a similar program for Vigo County.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on planning until January 2021 when Travis Behem, an instructor and academic advisor in the ISU School of Criminology and Security Studies, reached out to the prosecutor’s office see if the program could be incorporated into a new Cyber Security program.

The program developed through discussions in February and March. By April, three intern investigators were selected and sworn in as forensic investigators.

Currently, the interns have law enforcement powers while on duty under the supervision of a law enforcement officer. They help law enforcement recover and review evidence from digital devices for investigations and prosecutions in Vigo County. The work provides access to digital evidence in a timely manner for an impact on criminal investigations.

In June, the Indiana Legislature approved $3 million in annual funding for 10 hub counties to partner with colleges and universities to create high tech crime units to provide digital forensic services to all 92 Indiana counties.

Seventeen counties submitted proposals to IPAC in July for consideration as a hub county. In September, Vigo County made a presentation to the HTCU selection committee about the local proposal.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.

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Lisa Trigg has been a reporter at the Tribune-Star since 2009. With more than 30 years of newspaper experience, she now covers general news with a focus on crime and courts.