Anchorage has new tool to catch child predators

Posted: Tuesday, October 09, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Cases of child pornography are on the rise in Alaska, and police say they are falling behind in their efforts to catch child predators who are using the Internet to target victims.

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But the Anchorage Police Department now has a new tool to help stem the tide, a $300,000 federal grant for training and new computer equipment.

More than 60 online crimes against children were investigated last year, but Detective Sgt. Ron Tidler said the frequency and severity of the crimes is increasing. Also on the rise is the technological know-how of the perpetrators.

"The problem with this type of crime is the technology continues to change, so we need to keep up with it," Tidler said. "This type of investigation is kind of a money pig, because the computers go obsolete so fast."

Tidler is in charge of the department's police cyber crimes unit, which investigates Internet crimes against children in Alaska.

The money from the grant will help to pay for training and computer equipment for other agencies so they work together, Tidler said.

It also will be the foundation for an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in Alaska, he said.

The federally funded Internet Crimes program trains law-enforcement personnel nationwide how to fight online sex predators. Previously overseen by the Seattle police, the program now will have a regional hub in Anchorage, Tidler said.

Investigators conduct work on two fronts: forensic computer examinations (recovering evidence from hard drives) and online investigations (concentrating on chat rooms and file-sharing sites).

Anchorage Police Detective Mark Thomas, an online investigator, said his team is routinely swamped, but training other agencies will help everyone work together more efficiently.

"Computers give people the perception of anonymity, but there isn't any," Thomas said. "Someone's always watching."

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