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Cyber Crimes Unit relocates to Notre Dame, expands internship program

| Thursday, September 13, 2018

Six students were sworn in as officers Sept. 7 for the St. Joseph County Cyber Crimes unit. While the internship program is not new, it was recently expanded from three to six interns and the entire unit was relocated to Hammes Mowbray Hall.

The internship opportunity began three years ago as a partnership between the University’s computing and digital technologies program (CDT) and the central prosecutor’s office, Mitch Kajzer, director of the cyber crime unit and manager of the student interns, said. At that time, the program only had one intern.

Matt Cashore

St. Joseph County Prosecuting Attorney Kenneth P. Cotter speaks at a swearing-in ceremony for six Notre Dame undergraduate students who were chosen to work as interns with the county Cyber Crimes Unit in its new location in Hammes Mowbray Hall.

“That [experience] was very successful, so two years ago we expanded to two interns and actually moved from the space we were within the county police department to new space in the St. Joseph County Jail,” Kajzer said.

The program had three interns each year for the past two years, Kajzer said, so talks began about a possible expansion. With the expansion of six students, however, came the need for more space — so program managers approached Notre Dame.

“The obvious benefit [of being located at Notre Dame] is that now we can serve so many more students,” Mike Chapple, faculty advisor for the program, said. “Having it right here on campus as opposed to all the way across town means that students can just drop in and work for an hour or two when they have time in between their classes, and we’re able to provide opportunities to so many more students. … There’s a lot of empty seats around here, so the hope is that it can get even bigger.”

Chuck Crowell, director of CDT, said the program originally started to give students hands-on experience.

“The traditional programs here, majors and minors, are limited to some extent by the fact that they didn’t have room for a lot of non-theory, non-book, non-classroom kinds of experiences,” Crowell said. “There are exceptions of course around campus, but we wanted to build an exception in CDT because there are certain things that you just have to learn by doing.”

The real-world experience, Chapple said, is the best part of the program.

“[Students are] getting skills that are so valuable and in demand in today’s workforce,” Chapple said. “The fact that we’re providing students the ability to move beyond textbook problems and contrived cases and contribute to real-world investigations gives them experience that puts them head-and-shoulders above anyone else.”

While Notre Dame is not the only university to offer students the opportunity to work with officers in hybrid units, it is unique in the sense that the interns are sworn in, Kajzer said.

“No other universities or police departments are doing that,” Kajzer said. “It’s actually a risky decision to do something like that because we’re essentially giving police powers to students. Some of the interns are 19-years-old, and they have full police arrest powers. … We decided that the benefits outweighed the risks of doing it.”

One of the primary benefits is that there are no restrictions on the tasks the interns can do, Kajzer said. The interns can write search warrants, meet with judges, get warrants signed, testify in court and search for evidence at a scene.

In addition, interns can help sift through evidence that may have not been analyzed otherwise.

“Stacks of potential evidence sit there because there’s no personnel to deal with it,” Crowell said.

Kajzer said “scarce resources in personnel” sometimes limit the functions that teams are able to perform.

“[Teams] can do the case investigations, they can do the forensics and analysis,” Kajzer said. “They are getting great experience for it, and we are getting the added manpower. A lot of evidence that may not have been looked at before or may not have been looked at with such detail before — that is now happening. We’re working through backlogs and we’re generating evidence for cases that we may not have had before.”

With the expansion, the program now has two sophomores, two juniors and two seniors.

Senior Christina Casino, who has participated as an intern since the summer after her sophomore year, said she spends her time in the program doing research, issuing warrants and going through devices forensically.

“They really do take our input and actually use it, which is cool,” she said.

Casino said she will be working in cyber risk at a consulting firm next year.

“This is kind of what got me interested in cyber,” Casino said. “I’d be able to use this knowledge in a lot of random aspects of cyber in [the] firm [I’ll work for].”

Other former interns and graduates of the program have spoken highly of the experience as well, Kajzer said.

“The feedback I get from those that are out in industry is how both the classroom instruction and the internship program taught them practical skills and theoretical skills that other job applicants or other co-workers didn’t have,” he said.

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About Alexandra Muck

Alexandra Muck is a Notre Dame sophomore majoring in business and economics. Originally from Dallas, she currently lives in Howard Hall.

Contact Alexandra