When Jason Dionne analyzes evidence in a Highlands County Sheriff's Office case, he doesn't examine fingerprints, hairs, fibers or other such physical evidence.
He typically works with cell phones, computers, video cameras and other electronic devices.
"In my world, I care about your computer fingerprints," said Dionne, who recently became the office's first forensic technician.
His investigative world is a far cry from what existed when his boss, Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton, began working in law enforcement in the 1970s.
At that time, Benton said, a deputy went to work with a five-shot Smith and Wesson, handcuffs and a baton. They had no cell phones, portable radios, standard issued bulletproof vests, fingerprint readers or the possibility of having DNA analyzed to find a suspect.
Officers may have had flashlights, and if they were lucky they had flashlight rechargers, Sebring Police Chief Thomas Dettman said.
Today, deputies have cell phones, portable radios, bulletproof vests, breathing masks and computers in their cars.
In previous years, Benton said, deputies had partners. If they were outside of their vehicle and faced a dangerous situation they couldn't immediately seek re-enforcements.
They relied on their communications skills in some cases to reduce the threat, she said.
Dettman, who started in law enforcement in 1971, also remembers the challenges with communications.
"When you were out of the car and things started to turn bad, you had to rush back to your car and call for help or you were on your own," he said
But even that was a step up from when his father was in law enforcement in the 1940s and cars had no radios. Officers could only make contact with headquarters through call boxes, he said.
It might be a matter of luck that an officer would call in and find out that a bank robbery had just occurred, Dettman said, although in some cases pole lights alerted officers to call in on the call boxes.
Improvements in communications between deputies on the road and their supervisors and dispatchers have helped law enforcement, she said.
Not only can they communicate by cell phone or portable radio, but with global positioning system information, "We can look on a map and tell where every patrol car is located," Benton said.
In today's world, social networking on the Internet has become a tool for law enforcement.
The Sebring Police Department places posts on its website and asks for tips on crimes.
Dettman said they've received tips that have helped solve crimes.
In earlier days, "the only social networking was in restaurants, donut shops, and gas stations," he said.
Another change is that most cars have video and audio recording systems, a development that many police officers resisted when the idea came about several years ago, Dettman said.
But not only do the recordings help protect officers from false accusations, they also help in convictions, Dettman said.
There have been instances where there were two suspects in the back of the car and they've recorded one suspect saying to the other, "you tell them this and I'll tell them that," Dettman said.
Even with new advances, law enforcement officers, forensic technicians and others involved in solving crimes can't be successful as quickly as what people see on TV, Dionne said.
"It's much more intensive than what they do on television," he said.
While TV police can immediately call up surveillance video and quickly find what they are looking for, in reality it takes hours to do that, Dionne said.
One of Dionne's most important tools, he said, is a computer that prevents him from making any changes to downloaded evidence, such as video.
Dionne said that protects against challenges to the validity of the evidence.
Some of the evidence he's dealt with has been child pornography. Dionne said offenders often try to hide the illegal files, but he's able to find them.
"Most cases never go to trial," he said.
In some property theft cases, criminals deny they've ever used the stolen items, but a forensic examination shows otherwise, he said.
Highlands County Chief Deputy Mark Schrader said even with all the advancements, the basics of hard work and following correct procedures remain.
"None of these basic things have ever changed," he said. "We just have a lot more tools.