Dixie State University’s globally recognized Digital Forensics Crime Lab is celebrating its 10th anniversary of offering students hands-on experience while working on ongoing cases.
Over the last decade, the lab has established itself as a premier digital crime lab, conducting trainings for over 110 law enforcement agencies across the globe. The lab has grown from working on just a few cases in its first year to hundreds of cases each year and specializes in data retrieval from small devices such as cellphones and laptops.
“We went from two cases ten years ago to about 400 at our peak,” Mark Spooner, director of the crime lab, said. “We are now the premier digital forensic lab in the western United States.”
Under faculty supervision, students work on ongoing cases from across the globe, embracing DSU’s “active learning. active life.” approach to education. Not only do students gain skills by working real cases, they also get to work with highly skilled staff members, including former law enforcement personnel and nationally recognized experts in cellular telephony.
“It’s a differentiator for the students that no one else has,” Spooner said. “Our student-interns get real-world experience interacting with real-world organizations and it sets them apart from the rest.”
The lab conducts analyses and extraction of data of cellphones, computers and other types of digital media and provides the information to law enforcement agencies. The resulting data is then used as evidence for criminal cases.
“When we have phones or other electronic devices that we need analyzed for a case, we bring them to the DSU crime lab and the service is amazing,” FBI Special Agent Jon McPherson said. “DSU’s team is capable, fast and wonderful to work with. It speeds up our cases having a local resource for digital forensics.”
To commemorate the 10th anniversary the DFCL held an open house for students to showcase the cases they are involved with along with the technology they use in the classroom.
Dixie State student Kylee Newsome interns in the lab and also helped organize the open house. “The internship gives me real-world practice,” Newsome said. “Instead of just learning about digital forensics, I’m actually working on devices and extracting digital data.”
With most criminal cases now including digital evidence such as email, voicemail, hard drives and digital cameras, a workforce skilled in the digital extraction process necessary for investigations and prosecutions is in high demand. In addition to the lab, Dixie State offers a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice with emphases in Criminology and Digital Defense & Security. With no other Criminal Justice programs in Utah offering four-year degrees in these specialized areas of training, DSU’s two emphases are unique in the state.
“DSU’s forensic lab has grown to be an essential part of the law enforcement community in southern Utah,” McPherson said.