The lab will help police and prosecutors gather digital evidence during criminal investigations,

Police in Washington County have a new tool in hunting down criminals.

Last week, the Washington County District Attorney's Office announced it was joining with police agencies across the county to great the county's first digital forensics laboratory.

The jointly operated lab will help police and prosecutors gather computer files and other digital evidence in criminal investigations,

"With this new resource investigators will obtain evidence more quickly and prosecutors will develop stronger cases," said Andrew Freeman, a spokesman with the District Attorney's Office. "The (laboratory) will also allow probation officers to better supervise offenders and hold them accountable to conditions of supervision."

The lab is a partnership between the DA's office, the Washington County Sheriff's Office, Hillsboro and Beaverton police departments and Washington County Community Corrections.

Freeman said the forensics lab will offer "significant assistance" in crimes ranging from child and elder abuse to financial fraud, identity theft, domestic violence and even sexual assault cases. Investigators will be able to analyze mobile phones, tablets, computers, and other digital items collected as evidence during criminal investigations.

"In the current digital age, digital 'footprints' can be present in any crime," Freeman said. "A digital device often provides key evidence to corroborate the statement of a crime victim, show a suspect's state of mind or location, and even prevent future crimes."

Digital forensics is used regularly by investigators, Freeman said. In a recent child abuse case, investigators were able to learn where the accused abuser was keeping files of child pornography.

"The high cost of digital forensics equipment and training has often been a challenge to individual police agencies equipping digital forensic labs," Freeman said, but by sharing resources, the new facility is able to provide the service to investigators across Washington County.

"Washington County communities that previously could not afford digital forensics tools will now have access to state-of-the-art equipment purchased by larger police agencies," Freeman said.

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