08/13/2007

Conn. officer called "computer crime expert"

By ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER
Hartford Courant

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. — As he sat in city hall Tuesday, Tom Peterson couldn't help but recall the days when he taught his stepson, James Wardwell, about computers.

Wardwell had been interested in medicine, spent time as an emergency medical technician, and considered a career in nursing, Peterson said.

Instead, Wardwell became a police officer -- and the person the family, and his employers, now turn to for computer expertise.

The head of the New Britain Police Department's forensics unit and the resident computer crime expert, Wardwell was sworn in as a lieutenant in a city hall ceremony Tuesday.

Police Chief William L. Gagliardi suggested that the latest promotion wouldn't be the last for Wardwell, 44, who joined the department in 1994 and served as a patrol officer and investigator in the youth bureau, where he began the department's first forensic computer examinations in 1997. He later became the department's first polygraph examiner.

``The future is very, very bright for him,'' Gagliardi said, shortly before Elizabeth Wardwell pinned a lieutenant's badge on her husband's white shirt.

With his parents, niece, in-laws, city officials and colleagues looking on, Wardwell praised his fellow officers. ``Thank you very much for your support,'' he said. ``I won't let any of you down.''

Gagliardi noted that Wardwell had already made his mark, testifying before Congress on computer crimes, prompting the state Supreme Court to establish the legal basis for Internet sex stings and proposing legislation to require computer repairers to report suspected child abuse.

In 2000, Wardwell posed as a 13-year-old girl in an Internet chat room as part of a sting that led to the arrest of a Massachusetts man who had arranged to meet the ``girl.'' The man's appeal reached the state Supreme Court, which upheld the conviction in its first-ever ruling on Internet sex stings, establishing the legal foundation for them.

Wardwell got involved in computer investigations after a larceny complaint led him to the suspects' computers -- and the realization that police needed to figure out how to deal with computer crimes. He began reading up and went back to school, earning an undergraduate certificate in computer forensics. Wardwell also serves as president of the Connecticut Polygraph Association.

As a lieutenant in the Criminal Investigations Division, Wardwell will supervise sergeants and detectives and continue heading the forensics unit. The department will also train another officer for the forensics unit, he said, a reflection of the increase in digital evidence, which includes iPods, cellphones, computers and a growing list of other new digital devices. "It'll never stop," he said.

Copyright 2007 The Hartford Courant Company
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