COLUMBUS — Investigator Bret Strecker has spent a fair amount of time hunched over the keyboard of his computer over the past 15 months.
The Columbus Police Department sergeant has spent hundreds of hours learning the ins and outs of computer crime investigations since being selected to head the department’s investigations division in October 2012.
The homework has paid off in the courts.
“Bret’s been taking (computer forensics) classes like a crazy man to get up to snuff with some of the experts who commit computer crime,” said Columbus Police Capt. Todd Thalken. “We’re just better at being able to investigate those crimes now.”
Thalken cited Strecker’s computer-aided investigations of child pornography cases in the last year as one of the reasons he nominated his colleague for the American Legion’s 2013 Nebraska Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award to be presented later this month.
“I was a little surprised, actually (by the honor),” a reserved Strecker said when asked about his reaction to the statewide recognition.
The Columbus sergeant, who was nominated locally by American Legion Hartman Post 84, will be recognized Jan. 18 at the Legion’s mid-year conference at the Kearney Holiday Inn.
Strecker's honor qualifies him for the Legion's national officer of the year award.
Thalken said Strecker shouldn’t have been surprised by the state award.
“Bret’s been a good cop for us for a lot of years,” Thalken said of Strecker, who joined the local department after graduating from Kearney State College (now the University of Nebraska at Kearney) in 1994.
Thalken said Strecker was also instrumental in supervising the investigation of the May 17 stabbing death of a 51-year-old Columbus man. Three suspects were arrested and charged with the murder of Steven Jorgensen within days of the crime.
Strecker’s computer forensic skills have been key to a couple of 2013 child porn investigations involving two Columbus men.
In one, a 35-year-old defendant pleaded guilty to multiple counts of possession of child porn and will be sentenced Jan. 31. In a second case, local distribution of child porn charges resulted from the police department’s computer investigation of a 39-year-old city man.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently took over the prosecution of the porn distribution case.
“It seems like there have been a lot of child pornography cases lately,” said Strecker, but that’s probably misleading.
“I think the elements have always been there ... we’re just better at doing the investigations,” he said.
Strecker, who joined the department as a street patrolman, now supervises investigations along with the department’s communications and other support services. He also oversees the department’s community service technicians and school resource officers, known as CSTs and SROs, respectively.
CSTs are the officers who tell people to mow their lawn or move their car, enforce parking ordinances and help out at accident scene. SROs primarily work in the schools.
Investigators see all kinds of different things during a shift, from vandals tagging homes and buildings to answering frantic 911 calls that send officers to the scene of domestic disturbances.
Before heading investigations, Strecker spent about 10 years in the division sandwiched between stints on road patrol.