Blue Line

Features Q&A
Q&A: Cst. Geoff Johnson, Brantford Police Service

June 20, 2023  By Brittani Schroeder

Photo credit: Geoff Johnston

Recently, editor Brittani Schroeder spoke with Cst. Geoff Johnston of the Brantford Police Service to talk about his recent win of the 2022 Magnet Forensics Scholarship Award. Magnet Forensics began its awards program in 2018 to help police agencies address a talent shortage in digital forensics. The program awards officers who are new to digital forensics and those who are already in the field and what to take the next step in their training. Cst. Johnston is the first Canadian to be given this recognition.

Q: Why did you become a police officer?

I came from a policing family, but as a teenager I was really into computers and considered myself to be a “nerd”. While I was in high school, I was a co-op student with the IT section of the Brantford Police Service (BPS), and then became an Auxiliary member. When I went to post-secondary school, it was for both police foundations and computer networking and systems administration, and I was hired the BPS in 2011.

It’s incredible to be working for the police service in my hometown. This is my community, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I started in general patrol—if you called 911, I was most likely the one showing up—then I moved to the high school resource officer program and spent a few years there. Eventually, I felt it was time to take the next step in my career.

Q: What was it like joining the Child Exploitation Unit at the beginning of COVID-19?

At the beginning of my career, I couldn’t ever see myself working in the Child Exploitation Unit because of the material they deal with. After being a police officer for about 10 years, the chance arose, and I applied. It was like the perfect marriage of the two sides of me: police officer and computer nerd.

Joining the unit during the pandemic brought on many difficulties. Trying to get training during a pandemic was almost impossible. Courses I was supposed to take were cancelled and specialized courses ran very infrequently. There was one time I was finally going to a course, and then I had a COVID-19 exposure during a search warrant, so I had to cancel my attendance while I isolated. So, yes, I struggled in the initial parts of my time working with digital forensics.

Luckily, I’m a lifelong tinkerer of computers, so I hit the ground running and dove into manuals and reference materials to learn as much as I could on my own. There was also a senior member of our unit who took on a mentoring role and was quite helpful during that time.

Q: Can you tell us about the Magnet Forensics Scholarship Award, how you heard about it and how you felt when you won?

My wife is also a member of law enforcement, and she saw an advertisement for the scholarship and told me to apply. I tend to talk a lot about what I do, so she knows how much I love it. I knew that Magnet Forensics was based in Waterloo and was founded by a retired Waterloo Regional Police officer, Jad Saliba, and the company had done some cool things.

My wife encouraged me to write a letter and I received the support of all of my superiors; the senior officers and BPS Chief Rob Davis. It was incredible to know I had that level of that support behind me.

A couple weeks ago I got a wonderful email early in the morning. I drove to work, checked my phone as I got out of my vehicle and, even though I’m usually a reserved person, I wanted to yell out a “Wow!” and shout my excitement. I didn’t think it was real; I couldn’t believe they selected me. It was an emotional and proud moment for me. I was being recognized for my accomplishments and was excited to have the opportunity to further my training.

As a winner of the scholarship, I will receive one year of training from some of the world’s best digital forensic experts, the Magnet AXIOM software that helps recover, analyze, and manage digital evidence, and I have an instructor assigned to me as a mentor. He’s told me I can reach out at any time, and that’s incredible.

Q: What does this mean for the future of your career?

It means so much on so many different levels. From a personnel perspective, I’m able to take back the lessons I learn to my unit and teach them, as well. For the casework, I’ll be able to dive deeper and find even more evidence than before. Whether the evidence is inculpatory or exculpatory, digital forensic examiners must be impartial and present everything as it is; we don’t get to choose to only show what will get a conviction. This training will be a huge help in the whole casework process. And ultimately, I’ll now be able to advocate for more training and get them in the budgets going forward, because I’ll know what specific training is most important for the team.

I’ve been with the Brantford Police Service for 16 years—4 years as a civilian, and 12 years as a sworn officer—and I would like to stay in the digital forensics realm for the next 16 years. When you get into a position like this, or even policing in general, it’s because you care about the cause. But when you’re working on child exploitation cases, you have a vested interest in saving these children and finding the people who are doing the crimes. There’s nothing better than to get to do this work.

If I could share a piece of advice for officers who might be considering a career in digital forensics, I would say just go for it. Tinker, play around, learn. Don’t hold yourself back because it might look “too technical”. Start small, and work your way up.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Print this page


Stories continue below