LCCC’s Advanced Digital Forensics Institute gave Elyria Detective Daniel Sumpter the skills and tools to solve crimes using clues from cyberspace

An early adopter of new technology, Daniel Sumpter was one of the first officers in the Elyria Police Department to own a flip phone with a color screen — at the time, a cutting-edge technology. And since he joined the EPD in 1998, he quickly realized that cell phones and computers were playing an increasingly critical role in his cases.

“Every crime had some type of digital relationship,” says Sumpter, who was promoted to detective in 2013. “No one leaves home without their phone, so these devices store a lot of important digital data that we can analyze to help solve cases.”

Dan Sumpter, his wife and their four children standing in a field with a fence, trees, a lake, and mountains behind them

However, extracting clues from mobile devices wasn’t always easy. Until five years ago, EPD detectives sent electronic evidence to state or county crime labs for data recovery, which could take months, significantly delaying cases. Many saw it as a hurdle, but Sumpter saw an opportunity to advance his department’s capabilities and keep up with evolving technology.

“When I started working in the detective bureau, nobody at EPD had the ability, skills or interest to do digital forensics,” says Sumpter. “I would go to police departments in the county to learn how they extracted data. I no longer have to do that because LCCC gives us a local hub where we can learn and apply these skills.”

“There’s a sense of pride in knowing that I was able to crack a case due to my abilities as a forensic specialist.”
Elyria Detective Daniel Sumpter

By leveraging the tools and knowledge at Lorain County Community College’s Advanced Digital Forensics Institute (ADFI), Sumpter became an expert in data recovery.

“He has his hands in everything, because 95 percent of our cases involve some kind of digital technology in evidence,” says Detective Sergeant Donald Moss, Sumpter’s direct supervisor. “We don’t have to send electronic evidence to the lab and wait two months; he can get the information in a matter of hours. It’s a gift to our department to have his knowledge.”

As technology continues to progress, Sumpter maintains close ties with LCCC’s ADFI to keep his department on the cutting edge of solving crime.

Advanced forensics training

Sumpter — whose father was in the first graduating class at LCCC — initially enrolled in police science classes at the college after graduating from Wellington High School in 1992. He put the knowledge gained at LCCC to use as a military police corrections officer in the army, serving from 1993 to 1996. He didn’t want to give up his continuing education, so while stationed in Colorado, he studied police science at the local community college; by the time he left the military, he was just a few classes shy of his degree.

He re-enrolled at LCCC, fitting classes around a job at the Lorain County Detention Home — in the process, setting an example.

“I worked in the evenings after the kids got locked down, and I’d pull out my LCCC books in front of them to try to be a role model,” he says. “They would ask, ‘What are you doing?’ and I’d say, ‘I’m going to college,’ and show them.”

He was hired by the EPD in September 1998, and as cell phones and computers became more prevalent, Sumpter dedicated his personal time to researching the latest technologies and forensic tools. He talked to Moss about the need for advanced digital forensics training and resources, and when Sumpter discovered a digital data recovery course offered through the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy (OPOTA), his supervisors agreed to send him for specialized training.

In 2014, he completed his associate degree in police science at LCCC and then finished OPOTA’s computer forensics course to earn state certification. Finally, he went to LCCC to ask if he could earn college credit for the course. There he met professor Hikmat Chedid, director of LCCC’s Advanced Digital Forensics Institute, who was open to shaping courses to what police officers were interested in learning.

“We would ask if we had the ability to do something,” Sumpter says. “And he would say, ‘If we don’t, we’ll make it happen.’ He never told us no.”

LCCC is the first college in Ohio to offer an accredited digital forensics program.

“No institution provided this training at a reasonable cost, so we filled the gap to train people locally with the latest technologies,” says Chedid, who established the program in 2008 and expanded into the ADFI when it opened at the LCCC University Partnership Ridge Campus in North Ridgeville in 2013.

Today, LCCC offers an associate degree and a one-year technical certificate in digital forensics, and a technical certificate program designed specifically for law enforcement. Sumpter earned this specialized certificate in 2016 — but that was only the beginning of the EPD’s partnership with the ADFI.

State-of-the-art facilities

Chedid has worked closely with the EPD and other law enforcement agencies in Lorain County to understand the forensic needs of the police force.

“This technology changes monthly,” says Chedid, a certified digital forensics analyst. “It’s critical that we’re providing law enforcement with the absolute latest technology and training. Our lab is among the most advanced in the nation, and detectives from all over Lorain County use it daily.”

Detective Daniel Sumpter and LCCC Professor Hikmat Chedid
Dan Sumpter and Hikmat Chedid standing beside a railing with an Elyria Police Department Shield

Sumpter relied on LCCC’s equipment until he was able to build his own digital forensics lab. In 2018, The Nord Center funded the creation of the EPD’s lab through a grant from the National Children’s Alliance. And to keep his digital toolset up to date, Sumpter continues to work with Chedid. He recently pursued training in chip-off forensics, using technology to extract information from damaged devices.

“The technology is not budget-friendly, so instead of asking the department to purchase equipment, I used ADFI’s lab at LCCC,” says Sumpter. “It’s great to have this technology available in our backyard.”

Equipped with the latest tools and training from LCCC, Sumpter’s tech-savvy skills serve not just the EPD; other local police departments — and even the county prosecutor’s office — rely on him for digital forensics.  And he continues to solve crimes by extracting hidden data in his new digital forensics lab, making Elyria safer, one piece of data at a time.

“I’m able to solve cases that we would have never solved in the past by using recovered data. There’s a sense of pride in knowing that I was able to crack a case due to my abilities as a forensic specialist,” Sumpter says. “We’re continually training to out-think criminals, and we’re always striving to stay one step ahead of crime.”

Upskill with less downtime

How competency-based learning helps students like Daniel Sumpter jump ahead

When students arrive at LCCC with industry experience and certifications, they can test out of courses through a Prior Learning Assessment. LCCC’s Competency-Based Education (CBE) program lets students turn prior knowledge into college credit, allowing them to quickly update their skillsets without investing time and money to rehash their knowledge.

“There’s nothing more boring than sitting in on a course when you know the information already,” says Professor Hikmat Chedid, director of LCCC’s Advanced Digital Forensics Institute. “So, if someone like (Elyria Police Department Detective) Dan Sumpter has performed the job and earned industry certifications, we can diagnose precisely what he knows and give him additional knowledge to render his information current in the field — without taking the entire course.”

LCCC is one of only two higher learning institutions in Ohio with a CBE program approved by the Higher Learning Commission and the Ohio Department of Higher Education. Courses are designed in modules, and assessments measure the knowledge and skills students should master in each.

“In Dan’s case, it was clear that he had lots of certifications and industry practice, but he needed to upskill himself in the latest technology in digital forensics,” Chedid says. “Through competency-based education, we zoomed in precisely on what he needed to upskill himself.”