Catching Child Predators: Inside look at State's Cyber Crime Unit
BATON ROUGE- It's a job that has no end in sight and a case load that grows by the day. We're talking about state investigators who try to catch men and women who prey on children.
Those convicted are public officials, those fighting for justice and average Joes. We've told you about former Sorrento Mayor Wilson Longanecker. He's in prison serving a 40 year sentence. Steven Mannear, a respected attorney is also locked up serving a ten year sentence for possessing child porn.
Inside the state's Cyber Crime Unit, the hands hammering out words on this keyboard are not those of a child. But, a highly skilled investigator trained to get child predators off of our streets. The people on the other end of the internet think they are talking to children.
"This is one of the clean ones that I can show you because they get pretty graphic," an Attorney General Investigator said.
We are not revealing his identity due to the nature of his undercover work. The investigator read a portion of a conversation between himself posing as a young girl and a man.
"'Do you have on a nightey or are you in panties? Do you have any hair down there?' It escalates from there and gets more sexual in nature," the investigator said.
What typically starts off as an innocent conversation gets inappropriate fast.
"A lot of times, guys will send images of themselves masturbating while they are talking to the kid," the investigator said.
They typically want photos of the kids.
"I have computer generated pictures," the investigator said. "That picture you see of me is created my NCMEC, the National Center for Exploited Children will take a female officer's picture and do age regression like they do age progression. They will do age regression to make them look like a kid again. So it's a computer generated picture so it's not a kid we're putting in danger."
During our visit at the State's Cyber Crime Unit, investigators pulled up a map for us. In live, real time, each red dot on the screen is a child getting exploited or child pornography getting shared.
In about an hour, you can see the map completely filled up with dots in what has become a global issue. Investigators have their hands full.
"If you gave me an army of people 100 people deep, we would have cases for every investigator to work all day long," Investigator David Ferris said.
The proof is in the evidence room. Upstairs is a highly secured room where all the evidence is stored. Only three people at the Attorney General's office have access to it. Inside, hundreds upon hundreds of computers, cell phones, eye pads and tablets. All are labeled and tagged as evidence. The items in this room seized during raids where adults got caught committing crimes.
All of the cases in the evidence room are in various stages of prosecution. Some of the cases date back to 2002. Once a case is adjudicated, the Attorney General's Office will hold on to this evidence for about three years, if it's one of their cases to allow the appeals process to go through.
"This is all digital evidence," Special Agent Supervisor Corey Bourgeois said. "A little bit more, we have clothing and other items in here that the Cyber Crime Unit at the Attorney General's Office processes in the digital lab. This is all confiscated by our cyber crime unit investigators."
Every computer that is taken during an investigation gets processed by computer whizzes who take each item apart. They examine hard drives and make sure the pictures or child solicitation actually occurred on those devices.
"We have nine full time digital analysts that go through this evidence that you see in this room," Bourgeois said.
The work being done at the Attorney General's Office is getting results. The convicts and suspects involved run the gamut from everyday Joes to public officials. This year, Wilson Longanecker, the former Mayor of Sorrento agreed to a plea deal. Just last week, the District Chief of the Gonzales Fire Department Kris Johnson was arrested. Both of these cases spearheaded by the Attorney General's office. Newly elected Attorney General Jeff Landry promises to dedicate all means necessary to those who target our kids.
"We are going to aggressively fight and pursue people who prey on children and bring them to justice," Landry said.
As the red dots highlight an alarming problem in our society, the hands on the keyboard will continue scouring the dark corners of the web, looking for child predators as they focus on new challenges.
"As technology advances, we in law enforcement have to keep up with that technology," Ferris said. "So we are constantly having to move into different realms that we weren't there a couple months prior."
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, last year, there were four and a half million cases of children being sexually abused, child porn traded and enticing kids online.
If you want to report a child that you know who is being sexually abused or exploited, you can call 1-800-256-4506.