Backlog of child porn cases growing in Maine

By Mal Leary, Capitol News Service
Posted March 05, 2012, at 6:04 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee are determined to find additional funding for the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit after hearing the backlog of child pornography cases continues to grow.

“This is my absolute top priority,” said Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Livermore Falls, Senate chairman of the committee. “I will never forget what I saw at the crime lab, never.”

Like several other members of the panel, Mason visited the lab and looked at the images on the computers being analyzed. He said he is haunted by the sexual exploitation of children he saw on the computers that had been seized by law enforcement agencies from across the state.

“Let’s really do something about it and let’s stop kicking the can down the road,” said Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick. “Everybody on this committee wants to do it, and this is the year we are going to do it, I hope.”

A former co-chairman of the panel, he said he has been frustrated that the work of the computer crime lab has depended on federal grants including one-time funding under the stimulus act that is running out next year.

“I am tired of hearing we are just holding our own with hundreds of cases they are not getting to,” he said. “This is a priority.”

State police Lt. Glenn Lang, director of the unit, told the panel at a work session last week that when it had full staffing, including temporary grant positions, the unit barely could hold its own; the backlog has grown since then. He said as of February there is a backlog of more than 200 cases with more than 600 computer hard drives that need to be investigated.

“When we were at full complement, had the six detectives working for us and the four forensic examiners, we could just about stay dead even with the flow,” he said.

Lang said the complexity of the cases has grown. He said a case used to mean a single hard drive, but now cases usually mean multiple computer hard drives with as many as 10 being seized in a single case.

“And there is more information capacity on the hard drives we are seeing now,” he said. “It takes longer to do the analysis.”

In 2011, the unit handled 235 child pornography cases, which represents 73 percent of the unit’s workload, according to statistics from Lang. He said the unit has to shift from working on the backlog when a case of more immediate urgency comes to them. For example, he said, a murder case or a missing child becomes first priority.

“Its triage for us all the time,” Lang said.

Overall, the unit has cleared 67 percent of its cases. But there is a backlog of 235 child pornography cases from 2011, 73 from 2010, two for 2009 and a single case from 2008.

“We have tried to streamline things, like doing a preliminary forensic analysis,” Lang said. “We generate a quick report and some DAs like that and some don’t and say they want a full forensic analysis before they will touch it.”

The legislative panel is considering a bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, that started as a sweeping bill covering several areas from the sex offender registry to increasing criminal penalties for a number of sex crimes. One section of that bill would provide an additional $300,000 a year for more detectives. It has broad committee support.

“I think there is time to put this together and find the money,” Diamond said.

Lang was asked to put together a proposal for the committee to consider this week to increase staff so that the unit can start to reduce the backlog of cases.

“I am not sure what the mix would be,” he said. “We need detectives as well as forensic examiners and I am not sure what would be the best, but I will get back to you.”

Col. Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police, said he is hopeful there will be additional staff for the unit in the governor’s supplemental budget, but he does not know for sure because the budget has not been released by the governor.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/03/05/news/state/backlog-of-child-porn-cases-growing-in-maine/ printed on November 24, 2014