Certified Field Search Instructors Share Their Knowledge

There’s an African proverb that has been used in many contexts in the fight against illiteracy: Each one, teach one. When it comes to the Certified Field Search Instructors (CFSI) program, that proverb could be paraphrased as: Each one, teach many.

In the four years that Dr. Jim Tanner has been teaching CFSI classes on behalf of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Justice Technology Information Center (JTIC), 129 individuals have earned certification to return and train their coworkers, and often train professionals from other law enforcement agencies as well.

Tanner, who helped develop the software 12 years ago, says a conservative estimate of the users reached by the training is “many many thousands,” far more than he could reach alone in the days when he taught classes of individuals how to use the free computer forensic software. Field Search allows users to quickly and efficiently search a target computer and create a detailed report of the findings. (For more information on Field Search, visit Search logo on computer

More individuals will get a chance to spread that knowledge after they complete the current offering of the course, set for March 22-23, 2018, in Boulder, Colo. The instruction is free; individuals must pay their own transportation and lodging costs, and bring along a notebook computer. In these days of tightened budgets, getting training for an entire department for the cost of one individual’s trip is a real bargain, Tanner says. (Agencies often make Field Search training available to staff from other nearby agencies as well; for assistance in finding a trainer, visit

“It’s really more of a hands-on seminar than a class, bringing individuals to a knowledge level about Field Search comparable to that of the designer and developer,” says Tanner, who created the software along with Jim Persinger in 2006. “I explain and explore all of its elements, and cover some common pitfalls encountered in teaching and some tricks to use in class.”

He emphasizes that the class does not teach how to use the software itself; in fact, attendees must pass an online exam demonstrating thorough knowledge of how to use the software before gaining entrance. And before they go on to earn their teaching certification, they must pass two additional in-class exercises as well.

“Basically my goal is to get them to understand ‘what’s under the hood,’ so when they get questions from their own students, they have enough knowledge to answer them. There’s a PowerPoint presentation, but quite frankly, that’s not how you teach forensic software,” Tanner says. “You teach it by having them do intensive hands-on work in class.”

Once individuals complete the class and obtain certification, they also gain:

  • Automatic access updates and “cheat sheets” on new features.
  • Updated manuals.
  • Email bulletins on minor tweaks.
  • The opportunity to beta test new versions of the software (the current Version is 5; this is the first CFSI class on that version).
  • Direct access to ask questions of Tanner through his website.
  • A new feature, a shared blogspace hosted by JTIC where they can network and brainstorm with other CFSI.

The certification belongs to the individual, not the agency, meaning that instructors can take their training on to a new agency or even into retirement.

“In addition to giving them hands-on experience during the two-day class, I also look at their personalities to ensure they’re ready to make that personal commitment to training and doing a good job. Ultimately, they represent NIJ, JTIC and Field Search and before I authorize someone, I want to be sure they will do a good job of that,” Tanner says. He notes that of the 131 individuals who have taken the class, only two have failed.

Once they’re certified, Tanner encourages instructors to check his website to ensure they have the most current software version before they themselves teach a class. Only CFSI can access the software through that portal; through the JUSTNET website, JTIC distributes the software to interested individuals after first verifying that they are either sworn law enforcement, a government employee or a member of the U.S. military.

“To the best of our knowledge, there are no copies of Field Search in unauthorized hands. We have no idea how many times it has been copied, but we’ve never heard that there’s a copy floating around freely and getting into the wrong hands,” Tanner says.

Although the train-the-trainer concept of CFSI does greatly reduce costs for an agency, many other training programs have gone to online learning, which would cut costs even farther. However, Tanner says that although he’s given it consideration, that’s a concept that just doesn’t work well with forensic software.

“During the training, I have assistants who help me walk the classroom, look at screens and troubleshoot,” he says. “I don’t know of any forensic software that trains online. The CFSI training is very intense, I probably stuff six days’ worth of materials into two, and there’s homework as well. There are a bazillion different types of computers out there they could encounter and they really need to know the ins and outs of the software structure to make Field Search work on all of them.”

So while distance learning isn’t likely in the near future, Tanner hopes the free classroom space through his part-time consulting work with the Probation Department of the 20th Judicial District of Colorado could lead to expansion to two sessions a year. His wife has provided volunteer assistance with meeting planning, and he remains committed to keeping Field Search completely free and available through JTIC.

“It’s been heavily used both in the United States and around the world and has greatly increased public safety. That’s why I’m committed to keep on doing it,” Tanner says.

For more information about the upcoming training, visit or contact

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