TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - Tippecanoe County is leading the way for more High Tech Crime Units to be established across the state. A bill authored by District 40 State Representative Gregory Steuerwald is currently making its way through the Indiana Statehouse.
"It's a game changer, it solves crimes," said Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Patrick Harrington on the units. He testified at the statehouse on behalf of the new legislation.
"House Bill 1082 authorizes up to 10 regional high tech crime units through a local prosecutors office," he said. "I'm very proud that our prosecutors office was the first in Indiana and the third in the nation to have a prosecutor run High Tech Crimes Unit."
Right now, there are only four units in the state: Tippecanoe County, St. Joseph County, Indiana State Police and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Harrington said the only way Tippecanoe County was able to get their unit off the ground was because local law enforcement agencies agreed to collaborate and train officers to be on the unit.
The four HTCU's can also take requests from other jurisdictions to help in their cases. Harrington said the current units are inundated with requests, and some cases have dozens of cell phones, lap tops and other electronics to process.
Based on Tippecanoe County's budgeting over the past ten years of having a HTCU, the bill would create a state fund of $300,000 per regional unit per year. This would take the burden off smaller, less funded prosecutor's offices from having to come up with the money on their own to start a unit.
The plan moving forward is to link these units close to universities throughout the state, so students can get hands on experience. In St. Joseph County, any Notre Dame student that wants to get trained for the unit can do so. They also want to bring in other civilians to be trained. This would get law enforcement officers currently serving on the units back to their regular duties.
"This model is a win-win for both law enforcement, prosecutors offices and the educational system," said Harrington.
Sheriff Bob Goldsmith said TCSO was previously involved with our local HTCU, but now they have shifted to Purdue students and civilians. He said the units helps in a wide range of crimes.
"It's been useful in homicides, burglaries, child molestation cases," he said. "It's something I'd encourage every community to have."
People trained with the units are able to take electronic devices and process them for evidence in a crime, from cell phones to laptops to building security cameras and even police body cameras. Evidence they are looking for includes GPS location, texts, app usage, voice mails and phone calls. The HTCU can only take devices to search with consent of the owner or through a search warrant.
"We've solved murders with no witnesses, we've solved murders with no weapon recovered," he said. "It shows who did the crime but just as important, it exonerates people."
In several local cases, when Patrick Elliott took his murder case to trial, the key piece of evidence was found by the HTCU. Elliott had audio recorded the moment he murdered his wife in 2017. The HTCU was also able to track his whereabouts after the 911 call, which included a local funeral home. He is currently serving a 75 year sentence for his crime.
In Yariel Butler's hit-and-run murder case in 2018, the prosecution was able to use video surveillance of her leaving her job in Frankfort. They tracked her location as she drove up U.S. 52, placing her at the scene of the crime as she hit and killed two people. She is currently serving a seven year sentence for her crime.
Harrington said this bill will create a more fair justice system.
"To seek the truth, obtain the evidence, to be transparent to the public and be able to show what our decisions are based upon," he said.
The bill passed unanimously out of the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee last week. It will go to the House Ways and Means Committee next.