A mobile crime lab based in Orange has been in use for only six months and has already had a hand in some of the biggest criminal cases in Southern California -- including the hunt for ex-LAPD officer Christoper Dorner.
And on Wednesday, the FBI-operated Orange County Regional Mobile Computer Forensics Laboratory earned international accreditation, meaning it meets or exceeds international scientific standards.
Officials from the two-year-old lab showed off its new mobile unit during an announcement of the accreditation on Wednesday. The van acts as a mobile go-to unit for FBI agents investigating various cases dealing with digital media.
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"It's a self-enclosed mobile laboratory," said Supervising Special Agent Jason Weiss of the Los Angeles-area Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The six-month-old mobile unit helps investigators come up with leads in real time, helping find suspects on the run, Weiss said.
"Analyzing and examining digital media in the field and on the go immediately as opposed to having to wait," he said.
During the Dorner investigation in February, the van sat outside the suspect's mother's home in La Palma.
"The team here and their technical resources responded and served warrants and did a number of searches that were very important to the overall investigation," Irvine Police Department Chief Dave Maggard said.
Last week, the team helped in gathering digital evidence in Northridge after a 10-year-old girl was kidnapped from her home.
"Almost every crime that involves more than one person, there's digital communication; there's cell phones and tablets and computers of all kinds," said Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
Called "the M-Lab," the mobile unit is one of only six deployed across the country by the FBI. It serves 14 federal, state and local agencies in Southern California, including the Los Angeles Police Department, the LA and Orange county sheriff's departments and multiple local police departments.
"In the past, everything would have to come back to the laboratory to be done,” said Weiss. “This mobile laboratory gives us the ability to do that work on site."
The FBI calls it "revolutionary."
No more loose hard drives, thumb drives, memory cards, cell phones: Everything can be uploaded in one place, at one time. The mobile unit has a 72-terabyte server.
"So we can literally take this out of the can, roll it into a facility or living room, hook up computers to it and literally dump that data on our server in the field," Weiss said. "We could never do that before."
On Thursday, the FBI and partner agencies that use the lab celebrated the accreditation from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB), the world's largest forensics science accrediting body.
"It is such a high standard to achieve," Weiss said. "I believe we can go to any court in this country and show that we're as safe and effective as it gets."