Often we are asked in our presentations what to expect from the police when someone phones to report a cybercrime. Given that Darren just retired from a modern mid-sized law enforcement agency here in Canada, we think we can provide some quality knowledge-based insight.
When you first call the police to report cybercrime, in most cases you will be speaking to a civilian complaint taker, their job is to filter the call and decide if it meets the requirements of a uniform officer being dispatched and assigned to your complaint. Remember, this call taker will, in most cases, be a civilian complaint taker (CT). Although well trained, most CTs do not have the same legal training as a police officer and as such, may not be up to speed on current legal case law surrounding a cybercrime complaint. If the CT advises you that your complaint does not meet the requirements to send a police officer, calmly disagree and ask to speak to their supervisor. In most cases, the supervisor will also be a civilian, but in some cases, it could be a police officer, so it is important to ask when they take your call. If after speaking to a civilian supervisor they still advise that they will not be dispatching a police officer to your complaint say thank you, hang up the phone, and once again dial the non-emergency number and ask for the “Watch Commander.” The Watch Commander is usually a police officer of rank that is overseeing the first responder operations of the department. Explain to the watch commander why you have now connected with them. In some cases, the watch commander may override the CT and have a car dispatched to your call, or they may confirm that the complaint does not meet their call approval.
We assisted a family who attempted to help a teen from another country, who was having extreme suicidal ideations and voicing so to their son in a private text stream on Instagram. The parents phoned their local police agency where the complaint taker, a civilian, advised that there was nothing that the police could do because it was the internet, and the teen in crisis lived in another country outside of their jurisdiction. We took it upon ourselves to locate the teen in crisis online, and through the internet located the police department of jurisdiction and notified them of the incident. This police agency attended the teen’s home, where they located him in the process of taking his life by suicide. The next day we connected with the Canadian police agency where this incident was first reported and advised them of their complaint takers’ refusal to generate a call for service. As a result, updated training to all their CT staff educating them that there were in fact investigational steps that could have been taken by police to generate an “assist outside police agency” file took place, and an apology to the family was made by the detachment commander.
Now that a police officer has been assigned and dispatched to your call, it’s important to know that depending upon call load and emergency calls for service, there could be a delay in how long it will take for a uniform member to knock on your door. Like it or not, although a significant issue to you, a cybercrime that has occurred will be a lower priority call in most cases.
As you are waiting for the police to attend, there are several things that you can do to speed things along:
#1: Do not tell the suspect that you are calling the police
#2: Do not delete anything
#3: If you know how, screen capture everything. This is especially important if the suspect has the ability to delete from their end.
#4: If you don’t know how to screen capture, touch nothing, and leave your computer alone and let the police handle it.
#5: Start writing a detailed statement of everything that took place that led you to calling the police. Provide this written statement to the police officer when they attend, along with the printed screen shots that was mentioned in #3 above.
Before the police officer arrives, we want to be absolutely honest with you; depending upon the age of the officer will dictate, in most cases, how familiar they are with the internet and social media. The younger the officer, the more involved they will be in the investigation.
The reality is that many police departments are playing a game of catch-up specific to training all officers on how to deal with cybercrime. Having said this, some of the larger departments have their own Cybercrime Units. All provinces participate in integrated units that specialize in investigating online child exploitation called I.C.E. (Integrated Child Exploitation Units). Some junior officers do not know about these integrated units, so there may be times where you can share your knowledge of their existence just as a reminder to them.
Once the officer arrives at your door, they will begin the who, what, where, how, and why of your complaint, and look at any evidence you have to help clarify in their mind that a Criminal Code offence has taken place. If the answer is yes, then the officer will need to prove one more element; was there the intent to commit the criminal act? If the answer is yes, then the officer will proceed with an in-depth investigation. This may also include a written, video, or audio recording of your statement as to what happened. Before the officer leaves your location, make sure that you get their name, rank, and case number for your complaint, this will be needed if you have to connect with the investing officer at a later date to request follow ups as to the status of your file.
Often when investigating a cybercrime, the hardest thing to prove to a judge or jury is that the person accused was in fact the person who pushed the “send” button. Unlike the T.V. show “Cyber CSI” where they can solve an online crime in an hour, in the real world it could take weeks, months, or even years to collect all the digital evidence needed to prove a crime. This is especially true if the suspect resides in a country outside of Canada where the police need to work through something that is called the Mutual Legal Aid Treaty to obtain evidence to support a charge. Knowing it and proving it in a court of law are two different things that many people don’t understand legally, and therefore get very frustrated when their case is not solved quickly.
Depending upon the cybercrime and evidence required, the police may also have to seize your computer or digital device (cellphone) to conduct what is known as a forensic digital dump. This data dump will provide an officer with a court defensible document of what was sent to you, and where it came from. We must also caution readers that this could take days, weeks, or even months that you may be without your digital devices.
As you can imagine, investigating a cybercrime can be very labor-intensive, and the severity of the cybercrime can often dictate how much time will be dedicated to your complaint, rather than other more serious incidents that are likely in the investigations queue. Having said this, don’t be afraid to push your case because often the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Again, depending upon the age of the officer attending, they may initially advise there is nothing that the police can do given that the cybercrime committed was from an anonymous source or another country. Although initially, it may appear to be from an anonymous source, an in-depth investigation may be able to identify a suspect. What can make this even more challenging is if the suspect resides outside of Canada, especially from a country that may not be an Interpol member. Again, if you think the officer is just trying to blow your complaint off, don’t be afraid to politely push back a little. If they still ignore your complaint or say there is nothing they can do, say thank you and connect with their Watch Commander once they have left.
It is important to know that the Criminal Code of Canada allows a person from another country to be charged with a criminal offence here in Canada. However, extradition to Canada to face the court on such charges, except in the most serious cases, will likely not take place. Having said this, often connecting with a law enforcement agency from another country will often lead to charges taking place in that country as well. Good example Child Sexual Abuse Material cases.
Once an investigation has been completed, there are several courses of action that can take place depending upon the severity of the incident:
#1: Verbal warning
#2: Restorative Justice
Verbal warnings and court are self-explanatory. Restorative Justice (RJ) has become more popular in lower-level cyber crimes. RJ has no criminal record attached, but we have seen some amazing outcomes from RJ processes.
So there you have it, a brief outline as to what you can expect from the police when you report a cybercrime. Although this article was not meant to be exhaustive in outlining how a cyber investigation will take place, it does provide you with basic information to help you when reporting such a crime.
Remember you have to be your own best advocate, especially when dealing with an officer who may have less knowledge about the internet and social media than a preteen, teen, or even you as an informed parent or caregiver.