Report: Local law enforcement struggle to keep up with cybercrime

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Cybercrimes continue to rise, yet local police do not have an accurate picture of the problem and lack the skill and resources to combat it, according to the Police Executive Research Forum.

The report published this month by the national police policy think-tank looked at how law enforcement is handling the increasing number of cybercrimes. It is based on comments made by law enforcement officials at an event held last year on policing cybercrime. It also includes survey responses from approximately 230 law enforcement agencies.

“Local and state governments must recognize that the crime-fighting successes of these past 50 years are not preparing us for the new crimes of this millennium,” the report states.

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Police executives quoted in the report said nearly every traditional type of crime from robberies to tax fraud to sex and drug trafficking has some aspect of cybercrime involved.

In Southern California, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Chief William McSweeny said the high volume of small-scale cybercrime cases overwhelms them.

“There are so many cases that federal agencies skim off the high-loss cases, leaving local agencies with smaller things like forged tickets to sports or music events, losses of less than $1,000, or other relatively small scams,” McSweeny said in the report.

For example, a detective with the Chicago Police Department reported that gangs now make more money from financial crimes – such as ticket scams on Craigslist or buying credit card numbers – than selling drugs on street corners.

One way to raise the profile of cybercrime is to connect several small cases together. FBI cyber investigators said they send regional field agents packets of cases totaling $25,000 in losses or more when a computer system run by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) identifies patterns in cases.

IC3 is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. In 2012, it received 290,000 complaints worth an estimated $545 million in losses. But the FBI believes this only represents about 10 percent of all cybercrime.

Most people don’t know where to report cybercrime. And if it involves a bank and consumers are reimbursed, police don’t usually hear from victims. Furthermore, the report says banks are reluctant to report cybercrime to authorities to avoid bad publicity about security breaches.

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The lack of tech-savvy police detectives doesn’t help. However, the report identified some law enforcement agencies that have relationships with universities and private businesses to train officers.

For example, 40 detectives with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department graduated their first group of certified cybercrime investigators in February from a new computer science program at the University of Southern California.

McSweeny told the police forum that law enforcement agencies that have formed similar college partnerships are asking: 

“We need to figure out how we will use these graduates. Will they supplant cops? Will they work with cops? Or do we hire cops and then push them in that direction? That hasn’t all been worked out but it’s great to be developing this relationship."

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