A Brantford police officer is getting the expert training needed to help hold to account those who exploit children online.
Const. Geoff Johnston is one of six police officers from around the world to receive a Magnet Forensics scholarship. The scholarship provides him with a year’s worth of training and access to the Waterloo-based company’s software.
The software – Magnet Axiom – helps digital examiners like Johnston extract evidence from phones, computers and other devices.
Founded by Jad Saliba, a former Waterloo Regional Police Service digital forensic investigator, Magnet develops digital investigation solutions for more than 4,000 businesses and public safety agencies in more than 100 countries.
The company began its scholarship program in 2018 and has awarded them to police officers in several countries including, among others, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
“This is important for our section in a number of ways,” Johnston, 33, said. “It will make me a better digital examiner.
“I’ll be able to discover more evidence on devices and gives me the training I need to keep up with the ever-changing technology.”
Johnston is the first Brantford police officer to receive the training, which can be done online when time allows or, in some cases, in-person. He was supported in his training by Brantford Police Chief Rob Davis, who wrote a letter of support.
“The training is important because we can’t afford to fall behind,” Johnston said. “If we stop learning then we’ll have to rely on others and that could lead to delays in processing evidence.”
Born and raised in Brantford, Johnston attended North Park Collegiate before heading to the police foundations program at Mohawk College for a year and completing the program at Algonquin College in Ottawa.
Johnston also took a two-year computer program at Mohawk College.
A sworn officer since 2011, Johnston’s connection to the Brantford Police Service stretches back to his days in high school.
Johnston started out as an IT co-op education student when he was 16. He got a job as a summer employee and then joined the service’s auxiliary.
Johnston began his career on general patrol and later served as a high school resource officer. He is now part of the internet children exploitation section, which has become more prominent in recent years.
“We saw a large increase in the number of cases coming in during the (COVID-19) pandemic,” Johnston said. “It’s difficult for me to quantify but I can say that we’re extremely busy and really, all you have to do is read The Expositor, to know how much of this is happening.”
The growing online exploitation of children prompted police to launch Project Dilemma in 2021 to identify and arrest those exploiting children online. Police seized numerous cell phones, computers and other electronic devices, using search warrants and court orders.
Digital examiners, like Johnston, take the devices seized during a search and extract evidence which can then be turned over to investigators.
The Expositor has reported on numerous cases of residents being charged and devices being seized following searches in the past couple of years.
In one of the more recent cases, a 27-year-old man was charged with child pornography-related charges following the search of a Callwood Way residence. Several electronic devices were seized during the search.
Police said the search was prompted by a tip from the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.
“We work with law enforcement locally, provincially, nationally and internationally,” Johnston said. “It’s a crime without borders.”
People don’t often talk about it and when they do the conversation centres around their disbelief that someone they know got arrested, Johnston said.
“There is no section of the city that this doesn’t touch,” Johnston said. “It’s become so much more prominent that we could be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week and still not get to everything.”
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