Investigator Spotlight: Kathleen Waclawski, Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center

Aerial establishing shot of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus at sunset.

An Intelligence Manager at the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center shares how PenLink is an indispensable tool for uncovering crucial insights in the intricate web of digital communications.

In this month’s Investigator Spotlight, we feature Kathleen Waclawski, an Intelligence Manger at the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center (ONIC) within the Ohio Department of Public Safety. Kathleen shares insights into the pivotal role of digital evidence in closing cases and utilizing out-of-the-box data sources, along with her own personal experience of how PenLink saves time and makes teams more efficient—plus a glimpse at her favorite investigative tips.

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

A: The investigative process has definitely undergone a significant transformation, marked by a heightened dependence on digital analysis. Law enforcement increasingly relies on digital sources such as cell phones, social media, and location analysis. However, this shift is not without challenges. Criminals have become more cognizant of digital investigative capabilities, leading them to modify their behavior in ways like avoiding device usage during crimes or turning off their devices altogether.

Despite these challenges, the investigative landscape benefits from the proliferation of apps that offer valuable information, including location data and communications. The integration of electronic scooter location data in a case involving shootings in Ohio showcases the evolving nature of investigations and the growing importance of diverse digital sources in solving complex cases. In this instance, the scooter data played a crucial role in disproving the suspect’s statements. Even when traditional cellular location data and device communications were lacking, the scooter locations provided critical insights—revealing, for instance, the presence of two individuals on a scooter at one of the incidents.

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

A: Digital evidence plays a pivotal role in successfully resolving cases, with nearly every investigation now incorporating a digital aspect. In many instances, digital evidence has stood out as a critical factor in closing cases, which is underscored by the impact digital evidence has on convictions. Jurors have increasingly acknowledged the substantial role that digital evidence, presented by our analysts in court, plays in securing convictions. Whether it involves communications, links between individuals, or location data, digital evidence often serves as a cornerstone in building a compelling case.

That’s because the integration of digital evidence not only strengthens the investigative process, but also enhances the credibility and persuasiveness of the prosecution’s case. As technology continues to advance, law enforcement’s ability to harness digital evidence will become even more crucial, reflecting a paradigm shift in the way cases are investigated and adjudicated in contemporary legal contexts.

Q: Research shows that investigators believe digital evidence is more important than DNA evidence. How would you compare the two?

A: While DNA evidence is crucial and frequently utilized in our cases, the power of digital evidence lies in its ability to provide a comprehensive timeline of events. In numerous instances—especially in drug-related cases—digital evidence allows us to establish and present the communications leading up to, during, and after a transaction.

This becomes particularly advantageous when defendants attempt to dispute their presence during a drug deal or provide alternative explanations for the presence of their DNA at a scene. Digital evidence enables us to showcase the planning and coordination surrounding the event, offering a more detailed narrative of the circumstances. This level of insight can be instrumental in countering defense arguments and reinforcing the prosecution’s case. In essence, while DNA evidence remains crucial, the dynamic nature of digital evidence often proves more valuable in presenting a holistic account of events, enhancing the overall effectiveness of our investigations and prosecutions.

Q: How has PenLink made your team more efficient?

A: PenLink has definitely contributed to our team’s efficiency. As analysts become more acquainted with the additional features within the PenLink product, our team is seeing increased usage and improved overall speed and efficiency. During my tenure as an analyst, I experienced firsthand the positive impact of PenLink on productivity. PenLink allowed me to quickly analyze data and see the most relevant pieces of information with the tool’s capabilities saving time, enhancing collaboration and streamlining my process fostering a more efficient workflow. Additionally, PenLink has allowed us to connect cases across Ohio that otherwise would have remained siloed. , While we are not yet at the pinnacle of its utilization, PenLink already plays a pivotal role in preventing burnout, accelerating case closures, and contributing to overall cost-effectiveness.

Q: What is your favorite PenLink tip or trick?

A: My favorite PenLink tip revolves around the versatile features that enhance data analysis. The communication grouping and secondary filter functionalities are particularly noteworthy.

The ability to group communications facilitates a more comprehensive understanding of connections and relationships between individuals, which is invaluable in complex investigations. This feature streamlines the process of establishing networks, enabling analysts to visualize communication patterns more efficiently.

The secondary filter offers a refined approach to data analysis. This tool allows analysts to pinpoint specific criteria, making it easier to extract relevant information from large datasets. This not only saves time but also enhances the precision of the investigative process.

Moreover, the color-coding feature adds an extra layer of visual clarity to the data. By assigning distinct colors to different elements, analysts can quickly identify patterns, relationships, and anomalies. This visual aid not only makes the data more digestible, but also enhances the overall analytical experience. These features collectively make PenLink an indispensable tool for investigators, offering efficient and intuitive methods for uncovering crucial insights in the intricate web of digital communications.

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

A: As investigators increasingly pursue all available data sources, the expectations for investigations are evolving, marked by a surge in the volume of data returned. In preparation for these changes, analysts are adopting new strategic approaches. These include narrowing the timeframe for data analysis, focusing on what is most relevant to a case, and building strong relationships with investigators to grasp their expectations and genuine needs. By aligning closely with investigators at the beginning of a case, analysts can better tailor their efforts to the case’s specific details, optimizing efficiency and relevance.

Analysts are recognizing the importance of being involved in the early stages of a case in general. This proactive approach allows for a more systematic and manageable analysis of data, avoiding the challenges of coming in on the back end and having to grapple with vast amounts of information. Through these adaptations, investigators and analysts are better positioned to navigate the evolving landscape of expectations, ensuring a more targeted and effective response to the expanding array of available data.

We extend our sincere gratitude to Kathleen Waclawski for generously sharing her expertise and invaluable insights in this month’s Investigator Spotlight. We also express our gratitude to the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center (ONIC) and the Ohio Department of Public Safety for their unwavering commitment to keeping their community safe. Thank you, Kathleen and the entire ONIC 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 www.penlink.com.

“The power of digital evidence lies in its ability to provide a comprehensive timeline of events, allowing us to establish and present the communications leading up to, during, and after an event.”

Kathleen Waclawski
Intelligence Manager, ONIC, Ohio Department of Public Safety