Labrador adding staff, asking for more funding for state's Internet Crimes Against Children unit
Attorney General Raúl Labrador announced this week his office would dedicate two deputy attorneys general to work with investigators in the Internet Crimes Against Children unit. In its first year in 2013, the group investigated 223 reports of child enticement, child pornography and other threats and crimes against minors online.
“We went from 200 cases a year to almost 2,400 this last year,” said Commander Chris McCormick. "These are just cyber tips only; this isn’t taking into account agencyassists or other matters," he said.
The pandemic exacerbated an already increasing number of these reports. Cyber tips arrive from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and are ‘triaged’ by the center into one of four urgency-based categories. The highest priority cases always get immediate attention, but among the lowest priority can be photos or videos flagged by social media company’s security algorithms for review.
“Some of those ‘fours,’” McCormick said, referring to the least-urgent prioritization category, “You dig a little deeper you find there’s a lot more.”
In a press release announcing the new staff additions, Attorney General Raul Labrador noted a ICACbacklog of about 1,500 tips.
While cases have grown more than tenfold, the office has only grown from 12.5 staff when it was established to 21 at the start of this year. Two new deputy attorneys general will boost that to 23.
Thursday, Labrador asked the state'sJoint Finance-Appropriations Committee to approve $642,600 in additional funding for ICAC to hire four more investigators and analysts.
The number of tips coming in is so overwhelming, ICAC often relies on local law enforcement to jump in on investigations. Already, the unit offers specialized training for other law enforcement agencies on the investigations they do.
“Once we work the front end and are able to determine off of IP address or so-on, where these cases actually resolve back to, then we can say, ‘okay this is happening at 1-2-3-4 Main Street; we don’t have the resources to get to this right now, can you please help us out,’” McCormick said.
He expects the new attorneys will take some of the burden off of local prosecutors and improve efficiency.
“We’re fortunate to have to have them down the hall for subpoenas, but often times we’re driving to Coeur D’Alene to get a search warrant. "If we can have the same prosecutor with us from start to finish, I think that’s going to make a difference."
The dramatic increase in child exploitation or solicitation online isn’t unique to Idaho. Data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children show reports of these activities nationwide nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020.
"Our guys are conducting two to three search warrants a week right now," McCormick said. "We're away from our families or away from our loved ones trying to take care of the problem. It's just not something that a single unit can do for the entire state. So we're hoping to get the buy in from the other law enforcement agencies throughout the state and so far, we've had great luck."