West Virginia State Police officials say they need more manpower to combat child pornography and Internet predators. The State Police digital forensic lab at Marshall University in Huntington has two civilian analysts and a six-month backlog of cases. A second lab in Morgantown has one civilian analyst and a 14-mont backlog.
If you asked Corporal Marlene Moore about her job and the workload associated with it, she’ll say she’s “overwhelmed, extremely.”
Moore is one of 17 troopers assigned to the West Virginia State Police’s Internet Crimes Against Children Unit. It’s a specialized force which deals with child abuse and neglect cases and Internet crimes, such as child pornography.
“We want to do everything we can to save each and every child, to catch each and every perpetrator and the caseload is so large that we can’t do that,” said Moore.
Last year, the unit conducted 665 interviews and made 197 arrests. Both of the unit’s digital forensics labs are understaffed and are backed up with the amount of time it takes to process the evidence—from the time it is collected or seized to the time it is processed and analyzed.
“There could be hundreds of thousands of files that could be relevant to the investigation so that takes quite a lot of time in and of itself. It can take days, literally days, in order to get that evidence into a position just to begin the analysis,” said John Sammons, an assistant professor at Marshall University who works with the state police’s forensic labs.
Moore said the increase in file volume can be attributed to today’s technology advances. Cell phones with Internet access, computers, and social media websites such as Facebook can be hunting grounds for predators that are difficult to track.
In fact, some of the unit’s troopers work backwards from forensics gleaned by investigations to find traffickers and molesters and then discover victims.
“Now its multiple crimes against this child— the actual sex act, the solicitation, the possession of child pornography, maybe the manufacturing of it,” said Moore, who also said ten years ago when she joined the state police it was completely different.
Investigators in this special task force also deal with children a great deal of time. Sometimes, Moore said, the children do not talk so troopers need to find ways to communicate and connect with them. “It’s very difficult for a child to tell you a story about something what someone did to them,” she said.
Investigating these cases can take a toll on troopers. With a lack of manpower, the agency is not able to rotate the investigators to other duties in order to give them breaks. However, with more manpower the unit would be able to do this. Moore also said with more investigators and analysts, the unit would be able to investigate cases, analyze more data and consequently find victims sooner and arrest perpetrators faster. “We wouldn’t have to prioritize and throw things to the side,” said Moore.
State police recently met at the Huntington lab with members of the Legislature’s select committee on crimes against children to talk about the need for more troopers. It’s an issue lawmakers may discuss during the regular session, which begins in January.