It was unquestionably a change of pace for CMS law enforcement officers: an early-morning raid on a crowded trailer that involved federal agents, guns, bullet-proof vests, a pry bar and a battering ram. It was also a successful operation. When the raid was over, a stolen CMS laptop that had brought officers to the trailer had been safely recovered.
“No one got hurt and we got our computer back. We’re happy about that,” said Jim Smallridge, a detective with the CMS Law Enforcement Department who took part in the raid near Berryhill Elementary earlier this year.
The circumstances were unusual but the outcome wasn’t. Thanks to the diligence of CMS law enforcement personnel and the global reach of Absolute, nearly two dozen stolen CMS computers have been recovered in the last two years. CMS Law Enforcement has also assisted other law enforcement agencies, such as the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport Police, North Carolina Central University Police, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, with training and in recovering computers that have surfaced in Charlotte.
The high rate of recovery means significant savings in replacement costs for CMS. At about $1,000 per computer, replacing a laptop represents a significant expense to the district – and with county and state money drying up during the economic downturn, those savings are more important than ever. So CMS law enforcement makes recovery one of its top priorities.
“It’s a wonderful service and it saves money,” said Susan T. Manning, director of data center operations for CMS. “The software costs less than $100 per computer, so recovering just one computer pays for that computer’s software plus nine others. In addition, Absolute Software will pay as much as $1,000 per computer if a stolen computer can’t be recovered.”
Absolute provides this service to a variety of school districts, governments and private industry. CMS began using the service several years ago. “CMS uses the software on laptops and also on some desktop computers that are in mobile classrooms, because experience has shown that those are the most vulnerable to theft,” Manning said.
The laptop found in the trailer near Berryhill Elementary was one of four stolen in a break-in at the Northeast Learning Community Center. In addition to the one found in Berryhill, two have been located in the Dominican Republic, and Absolute is working with police in that country to recover them.
“In addition to getting telephone and IP [Internet Protocol] addresses, we are able to forensically mine the stolen computer,” said Lyle Singular, Vice President, Recovery Services at Absolute. “Because the Absolute Theft Recovery Team is made up of former law enforcement personnel, we know what evidence police need to get the subpoenas and warrants necessary to go after the alleged criminals.”
Mr. Singular continued: “Usually, our recoveries are pretty low-key. We just want the laptop back and if we get it, that’s the end of it. But this one was different because some of the evidence Absolute gained from the computer indicated that it likely was being used as part of a document lab, where fake IDs, Social Security cards and other documents were being created.”
The evidence led CMS law enforcement to two families living near Berryhill. Because of immigration issues involving some family members, the investigation included Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, according to Smallridge.
“In addition to the computer, law enforcement officers found a laminating machine, a scanner and printer, hole punches used for ID cards and other materials that indicated the trailer was at least a low-level document lab,” Smallridge said.
“We appreciate the assistance we got from ICE, our local law enforcement partners, and Absolute Software,” Smallridge said. “We got our property back and, for now, that document lab is out of business.”
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