Investigator Spotlight: Darryl Valinchus, Former Supervisor, Detective Squad, NYPD Intelligence Bureau
Darryl Valinchus, a retired sergeant supervisor detective squad from the NYPD intelligence bureau, shares how PenLink can reduce burden and aid investigators in closing their cases faster and more efficiently.
In this month’s edition of our monthly Investigative Q&A series, we sat down with Darryl Valinchus, a retired NYPD Sergeant, Supervisor Detective Squad and expert witness for prosecutors, about the future of investigations and how digital evidence is changing the law enforcement landscape. Darryl explains what investigators are missing in their digital evidence analysis and why the expectations around cross-agency communications have changed drastically for law enforcement in the modern era.
Q: How has the investigative process changed over the last three to five years?
A: The transformation is evident. We are now faced with an influx of data that must be swiftly gathered and processed. The increase of electronic information and the surge in cell phone usage, not to mention the innumerable applications available, have replaced traditional forms of communication. However, law enforcement has struggled to keep pace with this overload of data, often leading to extended investigation timelines that can stretch by three to six months. Investigators are tasked with the monumental responsibility of collecting, analyzing, and delivering information to their prosecuting teams in record time. Some states, like New York, are enacting new rules to expedite the process, but this places added pressure on investigators to manage vast volumes of digital evidence with even greater speed.
Q: What impact can digital evidence have on clearing cases?
A: The influence of digital evidence cannot be overstated. It has revolutionized our ability to secure concrete evidence by analyzing communication patterns, where even a lack of communication can be pivotal in certain scenarios. For instance, consider a situation where an individual switches off their phone, commits a crime, and then reactivates their phone upon returning home. The significance of the phone being inactive during the time of the offense and subsequently reactivated serves as a critical piece of evidence, indicative of a change in behavioral patterns.
Another compelling example involves drunk-driving accidents. When faced with uncertainty regarding the driver’s route prior to the accident, we can leverage their phone data to reconstruct their path. This data trail often leads us to traffic cameras, offering invaluable insights into the sequence of events leading up to the accident. All investigators need to be diligent about gathering as much digital evidence as they can, and in a timely manner. Delays in requesting cell phone records and related data can significantly hamper the investigative process.
Q: Research shows that investigators believe digital evidence is more important than DNA evidence. How would you compare them?
A: I believe that digital evidence is more important than DNA evidence. Digital evidence can be used in almost all criminal investigations and cases. Whether it be a vehicle accident or a homicide, digital evidence can be crucial for the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator.
We all have DNA, and that can be collected and compared to crime scenes—but does every crime scene have DNA? By contrast, almost everybody has at least one cell phone, and their digital evidence can be more condemning than DNA.
With the content, images, and location information provided with digital evidence, you have the tools that may be needed to show pre-meditation or conspiracy, or even refute your witnesses’ or victims’ statements. With digital evidence, you can tell the story of what actually happened. DNA can only provide you with proof that the individual was present at a crime scene, held a weapon, left bodily fluids with a victim…that’s all it will tell you.
Q: How can PenLink make investigative agencies more efficient?
A: PenLink’s analytical capabilities can handle huge volumes of data. Before this software, we would have to clean up the information provided by the telecom carriers. They would provide us with an explanation document, and we’d have to manually go through all the lines, whether that was 5,000 lines or 55,000—a task that could consume considerable hours. In my previous unit, an entire team of 10 detectives and analysts was dedicated solely to structure phone records, a prerequisite before integration into analytical programs. If you transposed a number or made a mistake, you hurt your evidence. Today, we can eliminate the manual work and the human error, making the evidence stronger and lifting the burden of manual work on the investigators.
Q: What’s your favorite investigative tip?
A: The tagging feature stands out as a valuable asset in my workflow. It allows me to annotate and organize data without altering its integrity. This functionality enables me to seamlessly reference and retrieve essential information during my analysis. Currently, I’m actively engaged in a case where we lack cell site data and possess only call records. When investigators reach out for insights on the four specific calls we have, the tagging feature proves invaluable. By promptly tagging these calls, I can readily discern that they went directly to voicemail, indicating that the phone was switched off during the time of the crime. This critical information was accessible without effort, due to the tags I had strategically applied earlier in the process.
Q: How are the expectations for investigations evolving, and how are you preparing for those changes?
A: In the past, collaboration between departments was often a challenge, marked by instances where one department’s actions inadvertently disrupted another’s ongoing case. I recall an incident in New York where a homicide arrest overshadowed a years-long narcotics investigation.
Today, the expectations have shifted dramatically. Agencies and departments are increasingly compelled to work in harmony. Tools like PenLink have streamlined cross-department and cross-agency collaboration, breaking down the silos that once delayed communication about cases and targets. The expectation now is for seamless coordination and information-sharing. In an era where manual processes have given way to digital efficiency, the lack of interdepartmental awareness is no longer deemed acceptable.
Thank you to Darryl Valinchus for his willingness to share his experiences and opinions. We appreciate him taking time away from his work partnering with prosecutors’ offices to make digital evidence cases easier for juries to understand. Thank you, Darryl, for all you’ve done and continue to do to keep our communities safe.
“PenLink eliminates the manual work and the human error, making your evidence stronger and lifting some of the burden for the investigators.”
Ret. Sergeant, Supervisor Detective Squad, NYPD