Fred has joined the Franklin County Sheriff's Department -- but he is not your everyday beat cop.
"Fred" is a component of digital intelligence computer equipment provided through the U.S. Secret Service.
Richard Minton, known by co-workers as Flip, is one of the fortunate ones lucky enough to be able to attend the National Computer Forensics Institute.
"Chris Williams is one of the Secret Service agents who currently works in the Fairview Heights office," Minton said. "He lives in Benton and told me about the five-week training being offered in the institute located in Hoover, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham. The institute is dedicated to the education of law enforcement professionals in the field of computer forensics and digital evidence handling techniques.
"The county paid for the gas to get me to the training and back, and the government picked up the tab for the equipment, per diem, lodging and the training sessions," Minton said. "I packed up about $22,000 worth of equipment when the training ended to bring back to Franklin County."
Sheriff Bill Wilson said the training is invaluable.
"This is a good cooperative program between the Secret Service and us, as well as other law enforcement agencies," Wilson said. "It takes all of the agencies working together to pull the resources needed today to get the job done. We are grateful to the Secret Service for the opportunity and for the equipment. We would have never been able to afford this."
Minton said obtaining a spot in the Institute is no easy task.
"Anyone in the field of law enforcement can nominate a local law enforcement officer to attend the training," he said. "Chris nominated me, and I talked with Sheriff Wilson about the opportunity. There were 24 slots for the training and between 75 and 80 people signed up to attend."
Wilson said forensics training has been needed for years.
"The computer is another tool for criminals," he said. "The only way to get this type of activity stopped is by having people trained in forensics."
Minton said the bad guys are also using the computer for illegal activity.
"Forensics is being used to investigate any number of criminal activity reports," he said. "I just finished a homicide report for a local agency and am working on a sex-related crime for another agency. I would not have been able to do this without this type of training.
"The NCFI includes five high-tech classrooms, a mock courtroom, a computer forensic lab and other meeting and training areas," Minton said. "Today's high-tech environment presents new challenges to law enforcement as cyber criminals exploit computers and the Internet to threaten banking, financial and critical infrastructures. This type of training is also offered to prosecutors and judges across the country."
Wilson said he is glad to have someone of Minton's caliber.
"Flip has been taking care of the computers here since they were installed," he said. "In fact, he and Rick Veldman installed the computers and continue to maintain them. This would never have happened without them."
Minton said the sheriff's department is the largest government network in the county.
"We have at least 22 workstations and a number of servers," he said. "We manage the database for three counties -- Franklin, Williamson and Jefferson.
"Computers are used to gain access and store information, including illicit material," Minton said. "With the training and equipment, I am now able to search a computer hard drive for anything. If it was ever put on the hard drive, I can find it. Even when files are erased, they can still be accessed. A 120-gigabyte hard drive, for example, contains more than 31 million sheets of paper if it is all printed. That is enough to fill four semis. Not all of the paper would have legible information. Some of the pages would contain cryptic code. The hard drive includes artifacts from e-mails and deleted files. I also work with videotapes in the investigation of criminal activity."
Wilson said investigation is only part of the work of law enforcement.
"An officer still has to do the legwork needed," he said. "Every 'I' has to be dotted and every 'T' crossed for the state's attorney to be able to prosecute a case. It still takes good old-fashioned legwork."
Minton said he was in his element during the training.
"This was the best training I ever went to," he said. "I was in the room with 25 or 30 other computer geeks. It was great.
"Doing forensics investigation can be very time consuming," Minton said. "Our final exam of the training included 14 hours of poring over a small hard drive looking for evidence and getting the report finished.
"I have worked for the sheriff's department for 28 years," Minton said. "I worked as a dispatcher before I became a deputy. I always wanted to be a police officer but am approaching what would be the end of their career for some in law enforcement. The forensics training has given me renewed energy. I now have a new fire in my belly. I am grateful to my wife, Kathy, who supported me before and during the training."
Wilson said as technology increases, so do networking opportunities.
"John A. Logan College in Carterville is working on a pharmacy network system," he said. "Hopefully, this will come online someday. It takes a lot of resources to make something like this available in order to share information between pharmacies.
"Tom McNamara is working with several law enforcement agencies to gather resources for a pilot program to be implemented at John A. Logan College," Wilson said. "The pilot program has to be in place before applying for grant and other funding. We are involved with the units of government that are participating in this pilot program."
He said training is the key to success.
"New technology is always being developed that allows you to do so much, but we have to have somebody who knows how to do it," Wilson said. "I don't know what this department would do without Flip. The young guys who are coming up in the ranks will be dependent on the cooperation of several agencies and technology more than ever before."
Minton said he continues his other duties in addition to his new responsibilities.
Wilson said his department now has something many other departments do not.
"I am happy to have Flip qualified to do this type of work," he said. "Not every department has a Flip on board. I am glad he is one of us."