Janet Van Kampen wanted to be a doctor, or a cop — or maybe the Bionic Woman, or Wonder Woman.

“There was some sort of public safety thing there,” she says. “I‘ve always had so much respect for law enforcement — I just feel like I still would do it tomorrow if I could. You know, I’m 51 years old, but if someone said, ‘I’ll take your laptop for the badge,’ I would do it. I feel that strongly about it.”

This month, as program director for the UCCS School of Public Affairs’ Public Safety Initiative, Van Kampen was recognized by the Colorado Springs Technical Investigations Section for spearheading efforts to direct more than $148,000 in state funding to local cybercrime investigative units. Thanks to her work, the Public Safety Initiative was able to upgrade the digital forensic labs of state and local law enforcement agencies — including the Colorado Springs Police Department — with forensic and cyber-related hardware and software. It also brought digital forensics training to 16 law enforcement agencies, to help them better investigate criminal transactions, financial crimes and internet crimes against children.

Moving government funding quickly through complex procurement processes is no mean feat, and it’s an achievement that joins Van Kampen’s “kind of nerdy love for numbers” and her background in research and analysis with her ties to law enforcement.

“When I went to college my undergrad was criminology, sociology, social science,” she said, “and I enjoyed studying all that, but … it sounds kind of cheesy … I guess in a sense I’m helping people in a different way — not wearing a uniform, not carrying a gun. So this is as close as I’m going to be.”

The money came from Colorado Senate Bill 86, which allocates funding to UCCS to tackle cybersecurity issues. Van Kampen says directing part of that sum to fighting cybercrime through digital forensics is “a big deal.”

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“It makes a real difference in that it helps these detectives and investigators. It trains them, provides equipment they may not have been given, and it ultimately helps keep the community safer — not [from] a robbery, but from certain things we don’t see or want to think about,” she said. “That’s really the easiest way to explain it. We’re helping them keep the community safe.”

This week, Van Kampen talked with the Business Journal about the “crazy path” her career has taken, and the importance of supporting the police work that goes unseen.

Are you from the Springs?

I was actually born in Texas but we moved here after a four-year stay in Italy — my dad was in the Air Force. I grew up at the Air Force Academy, moved off base and went to elementary, junior high and high school here. I’ve been here since ’74, so I say yes, I’m from here. I grew up in the Springs, and then I’ve lived in Monument for 20 years.

Talk about your path to this job.

It was a crazy path. I was going to be a doctor, and then I was going to be a cop — my boss will joke, ‘And then she was going to be a forest ranger.’ When I was 18 I spent several years working at [direct marketing and catalog company] Current [USA]. My last position there was in marketing, then in 1998 I saw the crime analyst job posting [for CSPD]. That was an awesome job. I would still be there today, probably, but that was at the time when crime analysts — people didn’t really know what they were doing. And now they’re a big part of [police] departments. So I spent six or seven years there, and then took a different path: ‘I think I’ll get my PhD.’ I ended up not doing that, but I started it. I ended up doing some teaching. I taught [speech] in one of the prisons in Pueblo. … I spent about seven years at CSU-Pueblo, working as a research analyst, and I taught there as well. Then I ended up in the weirdest position with the Department of Revenue when medical marijuana was first approved in Colorado. I was part of the first group of people working there. I was an auditor. So I would go out with the investigator and audit the medical marijuana facilities. … Then I worked at UCCS in institutional research, and then I saw the Internet Crimes Against Children coordinator job at CSPD — so I went back there. …

I loved being at the police department. It’s like a family and I missed all those people. … All [my jobs] have tied to law enforcement or safety or something. … And I like to be a part of new things. It’s like a control thing: I want it to be great, and I want it to work for the people who are doing all this work that no one ever really knows about.

Talk about your current role. 

My position with UCCS is program director of the Public Safety Initiative — it’s a program that was started in 2017 with a donation from a private donor. The donor provided the funding for us to be able to bring affordable training to police, fire, [district attorney]’s office personnel, corrections — everybody in the public safety realm. A lot of what is available on the East Coast is very pricey and people spend a lot to head over that way. Our goal is to provide what’s needed, not always for free, but something affordable.

My director, Rod Walker — we worked together in the late ’90s and he was asked to head up the program. I had left the PD after my three years with ICAC — internet crimes against children. He called and said, ‘Do you want to stop watching the Home and Garden channel and come and work for me?’ I was like, ‘I don’t even have cable.’ So I took the position and it’s building this program from the ground up. It’s a lot of no-sleep nights because I want it to grow. I worked at the PD for 10 years so they’re kind of like family, so I want to do everything I can.

The dean of the School of Public Affairs, George Reed, put in a proposal for a cybersecurity coordinator-type position and operational funds. After we received that we were given another opportunity, so I applied for about $30,000 for [forensic and cyber-related] hardware and software and training funds for law enforcement agencies. I received that, and in May this year we were told there was additional funding and would I be able to spend it? Because of my time with the Internet Crimes Against Children group, I said of course. Their training is expensive — it’s not a $300 class, it’s a $5,000 class. I said, ‘Of course I can do it.’ But it had to be spent by the end of the fiscal year, so that was the craziness — meaning it had to go through procurement and all of that. It wasn’t just ‘I spent it!’ That was what became a bigger deal because we were able to not only help local agencies, but 20 around the state.

Do you get feedback?

We get a lot of feedback from our board and training staff from different agencies who say, ‘Can you bring this in? Can we do this?’ … And I’m tracking the cases. They get ahold of me and tell me what’s been helpful. I already have received word back from one of the detectives in northern Colorado that the software we purchased for him helped with a case. One of our CSPD forensic detectives said the software we’ve gotten for them has helped with a homicide case. So I’m already hearing back about it. Not that they don’t have these tools, but we’re helping build their labs and that’s huge — because what they learned two years ago is going to be topped by whatever the bad guys do next, so we have to keep going. That’s what really kept me even more motivated — and I’m not kidding about the sleepless nights. … We always think about cops on the street — you know, we need more funding for cops on the street. But there are these cops who do forensic work that no one knows about because they’ll catch a bad guy, but that’s not going to be in the paper like a robbery or homicide. Not that they want people to know who they are, but they do a lot of work that none of us could ever do. Some of these people, they’re looking at images of child porn for, you know — they have to do that all day because they have to find the tie-in. And no one thinks about that. So that’s the part that keeps me wanting to do more and help more. Some departments don’t have the funding to buy a $10,000 piece of equipment. … For me, I want people to understand and know that these people are behind the scenes doing all this. And it’s so important, because this will never stop.