Investigator Spotlight: An Expert Q&A Series

A detective with the Modesto Police Department shares how PenLink is an indispensable tool for efficiently uncovering crucial insights while always staying updated on new technological advances.

“PenLink has definitely allowed us to be more efficient and process massive data sets, which is a very important piece for us.”  —Doug Ridenour, Detective, Modesto Police Department

In this month’s Investigative Q&A, we interviewed Doug Ridenour, a detective with the Modesto Police Department’s Homicide/Violent Crime Unit. Ridenour provides invaluable insights into the strategies and challenges faced by homicide detectives in modern investigations. Our discussion explored the evolution of social media, encryption, and data sets, along with the issues these changes bring. He also explains his views on why digital evidence is the new DNA of forensics in the criminal world and shares one of his favorite PenLink features.

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

A: The most change can certainly be tied to social media, encryption, and data sets controlled by companies, all with their own sets of challenges to overcome.

Social media: It seems that more often this generation, criminal or not, has resorted to messaging over live calls. However, some of the best evidence related to live-call cases that I have worked on has been recent. It’s almost as if criminals have found a revived comfort in speaking on the phone, which I attribute to the risk vs. reward factor in committing crimes. It seems that criminals have experienced a decrease in being live-monitored and an increase in social media monitoring, and they’ve noticed. Gone are the days of getting caught on the phone, and here are the days of social media data and phone downloads through systems like Cellebrite. Now we’re hitting them with a bait-and-switch. I’m unsure if this will be short-lived, but I have had good live intercepts over the last year or two.

Encryption is and will continue to be an issue for us in investigations. It was frustrating early on, but we’ve come to accept and understand that most good data will likely go through encryption of FT on IOS. Ideally, we’d prefer laws requiring end-to-end encryption to include a built-in key, accessible through legal processes like warrants. While I’m not an expert in this area, I believe that in today’s tech-driven world, anything is possible.

Controlled Data Sets: Increasingly, companies are storing less and less data due to storage issues and processing demands from law enforcement. This is frustrating, given their economic resources, but is an issue we continue to face. When requesting data sets from social media organizations, we find it best to request as soon as possible to ensure timely delivery.

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

A: Digital evidence is the new DNA of forensics in the criminal world. We are seeing more evidentiary value in digital evidence now than in physical evidence in some cases. If we can prove that someone sent, received, or created a digital footprint—it’s one thing to hear someone talking on an audio file, but it’s a different world to see it with your eyes. Digital evidence has become increasingly crucial in securing convictions and solving cases effectively.

Q: How has PenLink made your team more efficient?

A: PenLink has been our system since the creation of our wireroom. I have experienced another system while working with a federal agency, and though their system was easy to use, I felt more options were available with PenLink’s solutions. You must remember, some of your best investigators are good at what they do because they want to solve problems. Sometimes, these great investigators are not the best educated or most up-to-date on technological advancements, and they may even struggle with learning. In law enforcement, you often find people who have the drive and desire to make an impact and try new techniques, but may lack the knowledge to work many super-technical systems. For that reason, it is very important to invest in your teams. Provide them with an opportunity to train on the systems and to keep up to date with any new technology or feature. This technical landscape changes every day, and even the most astute person can quickly fall behind. PenLink has allowed us to be more efficient and has offered excellent customer service, world-class training, and more that helps us process massive data sets and try new techniques.

Q: What is your favorite PenLink tip or trick?

A: I have really enjoyed the digital folders, as they relate to photos and videos. It’s so handy to organize by preferred search criteria. Many of my colleagues use this feature for quick access to desired media on a case-by-case basis.

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

A: As stated above, I am aware that the technology and our investigations will be ever-changing. What I have found is, I don’t have to be as prepared—because PenLink is. PenLink is front and center on those changes, and the return rate in addressing these changes is impressive, to say the least. More importantly, the personal relationships and support from PenLink employees is something you can’t find anymore in the corporate world of technology. They are always there to offer support, advice, and technical assistance, and they go above and beyond for their customers.

We extend our sincere gratitude to Doug Ridenour for generously sharing his expertise and invaluable insights in this month’s Investigator Spotlight. We also express our gratitude to the Modesto Police Department for their unwavering commitment to keeping their community safe. Thank you, Doug and the entire Modesto team, for your continued efforts to adapt to the challenges of the digital age and leverage innovative tools to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of your investigations.

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