Fed grant aids child porn unit

By Mal Leary, Capitol News Service
Posted April 19, 2009, at 7:30 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers are praising a federal grant to the State Police Computer Crimes Unit that will maintain existing capacity and add new detectives to investigate the rapidly increasing caseload of child pornography downloaded in Maine from the Internet.

“Maine got $455,000 under the Internet Crimes Against Children grant,” Public Safety Commissioner Ann Jordan said Friday. “That will allow us to retain a contract person we have had, a forensic computer specialist, whose funding was going to run out June 30.”

In addition, she said, the funds will allow additional detective time that is equivalent to 1.6 full-time positions. The unit will use the model the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency has developed that uses local police detectives with the federal funds used to pay the costs of both staff and equipment.

“Several police departments have expressed interest in participating,” Jordan said.

She said the sharing of resources will benefit the state unit and will help local police get detectives trained in investigating computer crimes when they return to their local departments.

Lawmakers on both the Appropriations Committee and the Criminal Justice Committee were pleased with the grant. Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, is the co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee and was co-chairman of Criminal Justice in the last session.

“Given the conditions of our state’s economy and the difficulties we have in finding money, this is good news,” he said. “Finding additional resources for the unit was a priority for many of us, and the federal funds will at least fill the need.”

Diamond said that the additional detective time certainly would not eliminate the backlog of investigations in the unit, but that it’s a start.

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, co-chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, agreed.

“It’s not going to clear up the backlog,” he said. “It will be a start. We also need additional prosecutors, and I believe the attorney general is seeking federal funds for another prosecutor.”

Gerzofsky said that with the increasing number of cases being referred to the computer crimes unit, the next Legislature would be under great pressure to continue the positions with state money, if not to further increase the size of the unit.

“This is a priority certainly for my committee and I think for the whole Legislature,” he said.

Members of the Appropriations Committee were upset after state police Sgt. Glenn Lang, the supervisor of the unit, outlined to them last month the scope of the problem. He said the number of times a video or pornographic picture of children is being downloaded to a computer in Maine went from 14,951 times in 2007 to 43,530 times in 2008.

“We are speculating it’s around 1,500 individuals,” he said.

Lang told lawmakers he is sure there are transfers of child pornographic images that are not being tracked by police. He said the numbers that are available come from tracing traffic over “peer-to-peer networks,” more commonly used for sharing music.

Lang said the unit has stepped up its enforcement efforts, analyzing more computer hard drives than in 2007 and issuing 506 subpoenas for information in 2008, up from 165 in 2007. The unit also increased the number of search warrants it served from 28 to 41.

“Right now we have approximately 203 targets that we have identified in Maine in possession of pre-pubescent hard-core child pornography,” he said.

He said the cases the unit has investigated range from 2-month-old children to 10-year-olds, both girls and boys.

Jordan said the pace of cases being referred to the unit by police agencies across the state and from out of state is not slowing down. She said there was one week in January when 80 new referrals came to the unit.

“We have had huge increases in the numbers of computers and the number of identified targets that we need to be investigating, more than 1,500,” she said. “This is not going to be able to clean up the backlog — we have new cases coming in every day.”

Lang said that while the unit puts most of its resources on child pornography cases, they also have analyzed computers used in some white-collar crimes such as theft and embezzlement.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/04/19/news/fed-grant-aids-child-porn-unit/ printed on September 22, 2014