HAMMOND — Lake County will be home to one of Indiana's 10 new High Tech Crime Units focused on analyzing and processing digital evidence gathered by law enforcement.

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council announced Monday it selected Lake County to host a High Tech Crime Unit, in conjunction with Purdue University Northwest (PNW) in Hammond, that also will serve investigators working in Porter County.

The plan calls for the prosecutors in each county to work directly with law enforcement and PNW students using the latest, state-of-the-art technology to evaluate digital evidence of criminal activities more quickly and thoroughly than currently possible.

It's based on similar, successful forensic technology units already operational in Tippecanoe County, in partnership with Purdue University, and in St. Joseph County, with assistance from the University of Notre Dame.

Going forward, the Tippecanoe County high tech hub will serve Newton and Jasper counties, among others, while LaPorte County will rely on the St. Joseph County hub for high tech assistance.

"With these regional hubs, prosecutors will be able to collect more digital forensic evidence in order to serve justice," said state Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, sponsor of the new law authorizing the units, House Enrolled Act 1082.

"This is an innovative solution for investigating crimes throughout the state, especially as technology continues to advance and can hold the key to putting dangerous criminals behind bars."

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the county's selection as host for a High Tech Crime Unit.

But Bob Neumaier and Barbara McConnell of the Lake County prosecutor's office previously told county officials they hoped to receive a $600,000, two-year grant from the $6 million biennial fund appropriated for the program by the General Assembly, and to use the money to hire at least two full-time employees and purchase the specialized equipment needed for investigations.

McConnell also said partnering with PNW will give criminal justice and forensics students on-the-job experience in digital evidence processing for investigations into homicides, sexual assaults, burglaries and other types of cases, along with analyzing cellphone data, cameras, and computers to either connect evidence to the target of an investigation or to exonerate persons of interest.

"Public safety is a priority, and Hoosier prosecutors and law enforcement officers are ready to team up with the state's colleges and universities in our fight against crime," Steuerwald said.

Chris Nayor, executive director of the state prosecutors council, said he's "extremely excited" about the impact the new programs will have on Indiana's criminal justice system.

"We’re incredibly thankful for the work of Rep. Greg Steuerwald for championing this bill, all the lawmakers who helped on the legislation and to our university partners who are working alongside prosecutors to make these units possible," Naylor said.

The hubs selected for the program are expected to soon begin acquiring the necessary software, hardware and staff for the High Tech Crime Units, which should then be operational by early 2022.
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