Investigator Spotlight: An Expert Q&A Series

The Executive Director of the Kelsey Smith Foundation shares his belief in maximizing the effectiveness of digital evidence, using tools like PenLink, while safeguarding the rights of individuals involved in investigations by staying informed of legal changes.


“PenLink’s contribution to our investigative workflow has been invaluable, enhancing productivity, reducing operational costs, and ultimately leading to more successful outcomes in our investigations.”

—Greg Smith, Executive Director, Kelsey Smith Foundation, and Special Deputy, Johnson County Sheriff’s Department

 In this month’s Investigative Q&A, we interviewed Greg Smith, the Executive Director of the Kelsey Smith Foundation and Special Deputy with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department in Kansas City. Our discussion dove into the evolving dynamics of investigations amid rapid technological advancements. Smith sheds light on the profound transformations witnessed over the past three to five years, emphasizing the escalating importance of digital evidence and the pressing need to adapt to legislative changes and encryption challenges. From navigating landmark cases like Carpenter v. United States to leveraging tools like PenLink for enhanced efficiency, Smith offers invaluable insights into the strategies employed by investigative teams to tackle contemporary challenges effectively.

Q: How has the investigative process changed over the last three to five years?

A: The investigative process has definitely undergone significant changes, largely driven by technological advancements, including tools like PenLink. However, the legislature’s lag in addressing these changes poses challenges for law enforcement. Proposed bills requiring warrants for accessing third-party data sources like LexisNexis could hinder investigations. The exponential growth of data availability has transformed investigative capabilities, exemplified by improved 911 systems that allow text messages and even photo submissions for emergency assistance. Such innovations enhance response efficiency, especially in scenarios like domestic violence where victims need to seek help discreetly.

Despite these positive shifts, legislative hurdles and the need for ongoing adaptation to evolving technologies remain central concerns. Thus, while technological progress empowers investigations, maintaining a balance between privacy rights and law enforcement needs is critical for effective and ethical investigative practices.

 Q: What impact does digital evidence have on clearing your cases?

A: Digital evidence has become indispensable to modern investigations, significantly enhancing the process of clearing cases. With the proliferation of smartphones and digital devices used today, obtaining relevant information crucial for solving crimes has become easier. Legal safeguards such as search warrants still apply, ensuring the protection of privacy rights. However, the sheer volume of digital data presents a challenge for investigators who must sift through vast amounts of information to identify pertinent evidence. From computers and cell phones to vehicles and digital license plates, the breadth of sources offers a treasure trove of investigative leads. Legislative debates around privacy protections underscore the importance of balancing law enforcement needs with individual rights. But restrictions on access to digital platforms could impede investigations, highlighting the pivotal role of digital evidence in expediting case resolutions.

 Q: How would you compare the importance of digital evidence to that of DNA evidence in your jurisdiction?

 A: In our jurisdiction, the significance of digital evidence and DNA evidence varies based on the nature of the crime and investigative requirements. While DNA evidence remains indispensable in cases of violent crimes like homicides or sexual assaults, digital evidence has gained prominence due to the overwhelming use of digital devices. Digital evidence often compliments DNA findings by providing crucial contextual information, such as suspect whereabouts or communications, that can corroborate or refute alibis. Both types of evidence require specialized expertise for collection and analysis. DNA analysis demands rigorous scientific training, while digital forensics necessitates proficiency in navigating complex digital ecosystems and interpreting electronic data trails. However, recruiting and retaining personnel with such specialized skills poses challenges, given the allure of higher-paying opportunities in the private sector.

Despite resource constraints, law enforcement agencies prioritize the integration of digital and DNA evidence to bolster case outcomes. The synergy between these two types of evidence enhances investigative efficacy, enabling a more comprehensive understanding of criminal activities. Therefore, while DNA evidence remains foundational, digital evidence plays an increasingly vital role in modern investigations, reflecting the evolving landscape of forensic practices and technological advancements, including tools like PenLink.

Q: How has PenLink made your team more efficient?

 A: PenLink has significantly bolstered our team’s efficiency by streamlining the process of extracting digital evidence. Its user-friendly interface and robust features have saved valuable time, allowing investigators to focus on analysis rather than on tedious data-retrieval tasks. By automating certain aspects of digital evidence collection and organization, PenLink has prevented burnout among our team members, reducing the burden of manual workloads. Additionally, its comprehensive capabilities have expedited case resolutions, enabling us to close cases faster and more effectively. Overall, PenLink’s contribution to our investigative workflow has been invaluable, enhancing productivity, reducing operational costs, and ultimately leading to more successful outcomes in our investigations.

One specific feature of PenLink that has greatly contributed to our efficiency is its ability to integrate data from multiple sources seamlessly. This consolidation of information from various digital platforms allows for a more holistic understanding of cases and facilitates more targeted and effective investigative strategies. Additionally, PenLink’s analytical tools enable us to identify patterns and connections within the data quickly, accelerating the investigative process and improving our ability to generate actionable intelligence.

 Q: What is your favorite PenLink tip or trick?

A: My favorite PenLink tip revolves around the importance of thoroughness and adherence to legal procedures when extracting digital evidence. With the exponential growth of digital data, it’s crucial to obtain information from digital devices correctly. I emphasize the need for investigators to take the time to follow established protocols and obtain warrants when necessary, mirroring the rigor applied to physical evidence collection. This approach ensures the integrity of the investigative process and avoids potential pitfalls, such as data loss due to mishandling. Additionally, staying informed about evolving legislation, especially regarding digital privacy and evidence collection, is paramount. I recommend that law enforcement agencies engage with professional associations and utilize resources like newsletters and bulletins to stay up to date on legislative developments. By prioritizing diligence and staying abreast of legal changes, investigators can maximize the effectiveness of digital evidence, using tools like PenLink while safeguarding the rights of individuals involved in investigations.

Q: How are the expectations for investigations evolving, and how are you preparing for those changes?

 A: As investigations continue to evolve, law enforcement agencies must adapt to technological advancements and anticipate future trends. With rapid changes in digital technology, including the excitement around and use of artificial intelligence (AI), the landscape of investigations is becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable. Agencies need to prioritize staying abreast of emerging technologies and their potential implications for investigations, such as the use of AI by both law enforcement and criminals. Innovative tools like those offered by PenLink are excellent resources for investigative agencies to utilize when dealing with all forms of digital evidence.

Preparing for these changes requires investing in specialized training for personnel to navigate new technological tools effectively. It is very important for agencies to invest in their personnel to keep up to date with new data, tools, and techniques. Moreover, agencies must advocate for legislation that balances the use of advanced technologies with privacy protections and ethical considerations. Collaborating with professional associations and staying informed about legislative developments are essential strategies for agencies to remain proactive in addressing evolving investigative expectations. Furthermore, tactical considerations in response to technological advancements, such as the use of surveillance cameras and AI-driven security systems by suspects, necessitate constant reassessment of operational procedures and protocols. By fostering a culture of adaptability and innovation, and using tools like PenLink, law enforcement agencies can effectively meet the evolving expectations of investigations while safeguarding individual rights and public safety.

We extend our gratitude to Greg Smith for generously sharing his insights and viewpoints, as well as to the Johnson County Sherriff’s Office and the Kelsey Smith Foundation for their collective dedication to upholding justice. Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do to keep our communities safe.

If you would like to take part in our Q&A series, please reach out to [email protected]. To learn more about PenLink and to access additional resources, please visit