Right now, at the Maine State Police’s Computer Crimes Unit a stack of computers and other electronic devices is gathering dust in a storage room.
These devices contain evidence in cases in which a computer was used in committing a crime, or in cases where the computer was a target of a criminal act. Currently, there are 85 cases in this backlog, most of which originated between 2015 and 2017 and about half of which pertain to the exploitation of children, such as child pornography or an individual soliciting sex with a minor.
To be clear, this means that criminal child predators are out on the streets and on the web, evading justice and possibly plotting their next attack.
Unfortunately, this issue is nothing new—the Bangor Daily News reported in 2012 that the Computer Crimes Unit had a backlog of 156 cases. The progress made since then is a credit to the hard work of the analysts in the unit. However, more and more crimes are being committed using computers, and technology improvements have increased the complexity of cases handled by the unit, so analysts are facing an uphill battle.
At the root of this problem is the chronic underfunding and understaffing of the unit.
I’ve been working with the State Police and the Computer Crimes Unit for 15 years, trying to secure the appropriate funds to analyze the backlog of evidence against several child predators so we can rescue the children who are being used to produce child pornography videos for sale online. There have been proposals in past years to bump up funding for the unit, and through our piece-meal efforts small increases in funding have occurred, but our call to address the full need of this important unit has fallen on deaf ears in both Republican and Democratic administrations alike.
That could change this year.
After strategic planning sessions this fall, it was decided that we should approach Gov. Janet Mills to see if she would include in her budget the needed funding to reorganize the entire Computer Crimes Unit, adding the necessary forensic analysts and detectives to get the evidence backlog analyzed and sent to prosecutors for arrests.
Gov. Mills recognized the seriousness of the child pornography and exploitation problem and agreed to include in her budget seven new positions at the unit. These positions will include a new analyst and an administrative assistant to help take some non-investigative work off current analysts’ plates.
With new funding, the unit will work to create an affiliate program which would work with local authorities to help identify and investigate more child sexual abuse cases. The unit will also add three new detectives, which will increase the volume of cases it is able to take on. A new quality control position will also be added.
We cannot continue to put the financial squeeze on this critical investigative unit.
Underfunding its work jeopardizes the safety of children in Maine and across the globe who are either being sexually abused now or are at risk of becoming victims in the near future if we allow child predators to continue to walk free among us.
We’ve never addressed this problem the way we should, and we cannot wait any longer. If not now, when?
If you have any ideas, questions or concerns, please feel free to contact my office at
287-1515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I work for you and my line is always open.