The darker side of being a computer forensics analyst
A sobering piece for those looking to find employment in law enforcement forensics. http//bit.ly/5WTcYP Please be warned; the article is not for the faint-hearted.
The issues he mentions are some of the reasons I left working on behalf law enforcement and went to the corporate side. The 2 year time limit he mentions sounds familiar, the only thing that doesn't ring true is that he mentions that forensics in law enforcement pays well; quite the opposite in the UK at least.
Very good post, Jonathan, thank you. As I think I may have mentioned to you briefly some time ago this continues to be an area which I think is under-reported and indeed, under-valued in many workplaces (and I include within that number some where "processes and procedures" are already in place - I think there needs to be more than that.) I applaud the frankness of the post in question - if we're going to discuss this kind of thing, and I think we certainly should be doing so, there's no point in being anything other than brutally honest.
On a side note I tried last year to push someone involved in this area (i.e. dealing with the psychological effects on examiners) to put togther something for the site so that we could at least kick off some discussion but it didn't pan out. I have something else in mind which may be useful later this year but need to lay some groundwork first. In any event, thanks again for raising the issue.
I have always felt extremely fortunate that I do not deal in the areas of computer forensics mentioned in the article. I've dealt with intrusions, data breaches, malware infections, etc…but not illicit images. Thank God.
The issues he mentions are the reasons I left working on behalf law enforcement and went to the corporate side.
It is an interesting article and worth a read for those considering working in law enforcement computer forensics and for private companies. You just never know what your going to come across. Yes, we are exposed to a lot as examiners and the psych wellbeing needs to be maintained, knowing the stuff were exposed to can be left behind after a days work. This is why, in our department at least, it is now mandatory to see the psych every 6 months for assessment. I wonder how many other agencies initiate this.
I haven't read the article yet, but as I read the critique of it, I wanted to comment on the very same thing…how working like that ate my soul.
It wasn't until I left that I realized I COULD do that work AND live with the images and memories….if only I were allowed to work.
Also, I used to work for JJI…
Nice Post! As with rrwashing, up until 3 months ago I worked for JJI too. I agree with everything he said. While I did not leave b/c I couldn't do it anymore - my soul is definitely different, humor darker, jaded etc. However, I'm now forced to question myself. Who am I now (if decapitations, rapes, child pornography/molestation and all the others) don't seem to bother me anymore? I remember rrwashing and I working a case that required counseling for everyone who had worked it. There were ppl in the room that seemed like they weren't affected by it at all. Well, after numerous cases like that and things I couldn't swap out or purge from my memory if I tried, I understand how and why they were like that. I guess I've joined the ranks of the extremely numb.
I had to put my two pence into the equation.
I became an examiner/analyst about the same time as Jonathan. In fact we worked for the same unit in those early days. Whilst Jonathan has moved into the commercial world I remain in LE. It could make a person wonder was Jonathan not strong enough? Or is there something wrong with me that I should chose to stay?
Yes Jonathan was strong enough and I don't think I'm that insane but it is interesting to consider, can only the warped stay in LE?
For me remembering the successes makes it all worthwhile. Back in 2004 I did a job where I identified another current victim of abuse that we hadn't previously known about when I began the job. I 'felt' there was more to find and carried on after finishing the original work request. Because of that work further arrests were made and a little girl was taken out of a situation of abuse.
Whatever happened after that, I had saved this little girl from further abuse. Any future job I did from then on might present this same opportunity. So I stick with it, with that thought in mind.
Child abuse victim identification units exist and hearing their success stories can raise the spirits of even the most cynical examiner. Knowing that a particular child has been found and that there will be no more videos of them is a positive result that can make it all worthwhile. More information like this should find it's way to and from LE agencies.
Maybe these victims will never get over the abuse, maybe they will. Tomorrow is always another day for them and one day further since the abuse stopped. At least it has stopped.
I've limited my responses to child abuse jobs because I didn't want to get graphic on here with tales of murder and terrorism work. Sometimes with those jobs all you can do is provide evidence that proves guilt. Nobody wins in that scenario, even for the family of the victim this provides little or no comfort. Maybe a future victim is safe now we've put the perpetrator in prison, maybe.
In these situations objectivity and professionalism must become the overriding factors. A job well done is all you might achieve. Maybe you learn something new from a technical point of view for a future case. Find all the positives, no mater how small, that's what I believe.
As for the article's remarks concerning personal interaction outside of work. It can be hard as a parent to not let my children become cynical based on my experience, rather they should become cynical from their own experiences. When I get home I have to look like I've been on the golf course all afternoon, cheery and happy. I can achieve that but some people might need a means of unwinding some days.
Despite going to scene attendances, getting a bullet proof vest, going into police buildings and occasionally knowing about breaking news stories before they break, according to my teenage daughter I am still not cool. Damn.
Anyway, I've droned on long enough.
I know how he feels, and I typed up a whole post about it, but then I deleted it because frankly, the average citizen is better off never knowing what I've seen. To even hear some of it described would make you feel ill. And if you haven't worked CEM or "innocent images" then you may think you know what we're talking about, but you really don't unless you broke a few laws yourself.
I had a good friend work online engagement for over 7 years with only about 6 months off. In the end he went out psych. I believe towards the end that his agency actually mandated pysch visits every few months, but you're also up against the paramilitary, suck-it-up culture so counseling is not always effective.
" I 'felt' there was more to find and carried on after finishing the original work request. Because of that work further arrests were made and a little girl was taken out of a situation of abuse. "
I hear ya.
The hard part of that statement is that we ALL know that you get a "feel" for the user(s) after sifting through their garbage, but the author of the article is so constrained and hampered by SOP's, Management, overbearing rules, training, etc that he would never have been allowed to add value to a case based simply on "feel".
That is the reason I (and 27 other people) left that place.
I pray every day not have to find things like that . . .
Sadly funny how I have the "paranoia" and the appropriate stuff in my basement.
I have not had to view any of these types of images but we did discuss it amongst classmates. There were a few that wanted to get in to the corporate side because of this. I have always had the feeling that I need to help people. While I 'think' that my mind is solid enough that I could do the work with the thought that I am helping those that can't help themselves, I can't help but think that a person would be changed by constant viewing of such images.
I guess if/when I come across a case such as this, I'll deal with it and make the decision afterwords if it is worth continuing on in that capacity. I guess my thoughts are that somebody has to do this.
One of the questions that you may get asked in an interview for a LEO that does a lot of this work is likely to relate to whether you have an issue with dealing with this kind of material. An "I'll see after my first case" response won't be viewed favourably by the selection panel.
Funnily enough, when I was asked by my friends outside of law enforcement how I did the CEM stuff, the answer that I gave was a lot like what you said "I can deal with this stuff, I'm good at what I do, and I'm contributing to putting the bad guys away".
We all have different tolerance levels and different coping strategies. Some people may last around 2 years, some far less, some far more.
If you don't/can't cope for very long, or aren't even inclined to deal with IIOC etc, it doesn't make you less of a forensic practitioner than someone who does.
Having been in this field for 8 years, can I say it's affected my sense of humour? Nope, not at all. I still know the difference between things I should/can/shouldn't/can't say.
Has it made me paranoid? Nope, it has made me more aware of certain dangers though. No anti radiation pills in my basement….
My first case was a nasty divorce. During the initial court hearing the wife claimed she wasn't drinking heavily, wasn't chatting with convicted felons and wasn't sending pictures of herself and their young daughter to strangers on the Internet- all of which was proven to be perjury.
As if all that wasn't bad enough, every piece of evidence–facebook chats, yahoo chats, emails–uncovered another affair she was having. I thought my client was going to loose it more than once.
On court day, I get stuck in the elevator with my client and one of the wife's many affairs.
The whole thing made me think long and hard if I could do this everyday.
Extremely interesting thread guys…..
I don't really want to get into the whole Police Officer Vs Civilian Staff issue here as it isn't entirely relevant to this thread, but it is relevant to my comment.
I have been a Police Officer for 28 years, 24 of those as a Detective. I have been a Forensic Examiner for 6 years.
When I joined the HTCU I had already personally witnessed - Fatal RTAs - Cot Deaths - Murder Scenes - Serious Assaults - A&E Departments on Friday nights - Post Mortems - Domestic Violence, just to name a few highlights of the human condition.
I guess I have built up my own personal defence mechanisms that help me deal with the horrors of the job that I do. I have been married to the same woman for 27 years and have 3 grown up, well adjusted, daughters. I am still relatively sane - I must be doing something right.
I still get immense satisfaction from the job that I do, namely, bringing bad people to some kind of justice. At the risk of climbing up on my moral high horse, it is why I joined the job in the first place.
I was asked yesterday (strangely enough) do I still find anything shocking when examining people's lives in a beige box. My answer? I am very rarely shocked nowadays by anything that the human animal does, I am frequently saddened but I realised a long time ago that I can't take on the woes of the entire world at one go. Like eating an elephant, it is something best done one bite at a time.
Not sure if this post says what I intended when I started but I thought I would contribute anyway.
Ho hum - nose re-applied to grindstone - that backlog won't clear itself you know!