SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WNN) — Illinois and federal officials on Monday unveiled a mobile unit they say will add speed and efficiency to digital investigations of child pornography and exploitation at a time when youth already Using the Internet far more.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raul said the gray vans have been assigned to the Internet Crime Against Children Task Force, whose office oversees the group and its growing caseload. The perceived exploitation received by the task force increased by 118% from 2017 to 2020 and is on pace to jump 23% this year.
“Child predators are actively trolling the Internet, trading, selling and collecting images of the most despicable sexual acts involving children,” Raul said. He said other hunters would log on to befriend innocent people, then lure them into mingling for sex.
Raul told his office about the tutorials he has developed for schools and parents, which are being conducted online in person since the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic also had the added effect of keeping families and children in front of screens.
“A parent’s eyes lit up when they start thinking about it,” Raul said. “They believe they are extremely secure when their child is in their room on the computer or playing video games. They don’t think about the vulnerabilities associated with it.”
The mobile unit is funded by a $174, 000 federal grant and is equipped with advanced technology. The task force’s digital forensics examiner Zeus Flores said when officers target a suspect, the unit will be critical in an environment where timing is critical and integrity of evidence can make or break a case.
“Some of the homes we’re visiting are clearly biohazardous,” Flores said, adding that instead of operating in poor conditions—the mobile unit would be a centralized lab offering privacy and security.
“It’s a very dynamic scene,” Flores said. “Investigators are trying to talk to the subjects, trying to find out what they know and we’re trying to provide them with intelligence so that they’re equipped with the appropriate information. It allows us to triage equipment.” And we’re not, for example, taking a kid’s laptop who needs it for his homework. We can look at it, put it out, and give it back right away. “
Raul’s office said the task force has been involved in the arrest of more than 1,780 alleged poachers since 2006, the year the Justice Department ordered states to maintain statistics on such cases.
Last week, Raul said, state and federal prosecutors in Peoria obtained the conviction of a man who was a 14-year-old child for traveling to Kankakee County but was actually an investigator. The task force’s collaboration with a Winnebago County state attorney led to recent allegations of possession of child pornography against a Rockford police officer.
“From children to teenagers, we are the victims of hidden perils,” said Douglas Quivey, acting U.S. attorney for the Central District of Illinois.
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