By Josh Harvison
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe Tuesday discussed the importance in dealing with online criminals who prey on children and young adults. According to Arkansas State Police, 67% of all forensic examinations of computers and storage devices originated from northeast Arkansas. Colonel Winford Phillips, Director of Arkansas State Police, said the Jonesboro Police Department has performed well in dealing with online criminals.
"We're living today where the playground of our children and our grandchildren is no longer a place down the street. It's a worldwide electronic playground that has created threats we could never have imagined a few years ago," said Phillips. "Stopping the online exchange of child pornography and the victimization of children through the internet is a priority among law enforcement officers across the country."
Jonesboro Police were awarded a four-year, $113,114 grant by Arkansas State Police as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Grant of 2009. Beebe said the state awarded the one-time grant to pay for equipment and training instead of funding operational expenses. He said the move would allow residents to not worry about providing funding once the four-year period is exhausted.
"If 67% are coming from this area, that means somebody is making a lot of good arrests, so don't take that wrong and think that there's any problem with your police department. It's the other way around. It's the good work that the police department and the state police are doing that's occasioned those kinds of numbers," said Beebe.
Beebe said the training will be given to two officers, Det. Ernest Ward and Sgt. Gary Shackelford. Both men have spent several years training to fight cyber crimes.
"Now more than ever law enforcement needs additional tools to be able to attack this problem and attack these people," said Beebe. "Jonesboro is the first place out of central Arkansas where one of these forensic labs and one of these programs is to be established."
"The bad news is part of the reason Jonesboro was chosen is over 60 percent of our hits came from northeast Arkansas," said Beebe.
"The internet predator project is an evolving threat to our children. It is something that we've been working on for a couple of years now but only with this kind of cooperation and assistance could we be where we are today," said Michael Yates, Jonesboro Police Chief. "The boundaries are limitless between the cities, the counties and the states. These predators are everywhere. We have to be on the cutting edge of technology and we have to be able to deal with them."
Ward said he will be able to use several new types of software and computers to monitor online activities of criminals. Those criminals exchange child pornography and target young children for sexual encounters.
Ward said a new lab will help him deliver content from files quicker.
"Once I get this image, this is where I work from. This is where I extract all the data. This is where I look for my evidence," said Ward. "I can examine unallocated space or deleted files and rebuild these deleted files."
Ward said traditionally he would have to send computers and other devices to a forensics lab in Little Rock. With the technology closer to home, arrests can be made faster.
"These cases are not something that we. It's not something that we can find today and arrest them this afternoon. This is a process. This process takes a long time," said Ward.
"They're (children) all attuned to safety precautions in the old world, in the realm of face to face confrontation, but those same kids don't think a thing in the world about putting all their personal information on the internet," said Beebe. "Those same kids think that they are invulnerable on the internet."
Beebe talked about one case involving a 14-year old Greenbrier girl who was murdered after contact with a 40-year old man from California.
"He actually made two trips to Arkansas to first scope out where she lived and gather information based upon all the information that had been going back and forth between her and who she thought was 17 years old," said Beebe. "He raped her and killed her and before the police could arrive, they were on their way and cornered him. They did some great police work within a 24 hour period but it wasn't quite fast enough and he killed himself."
"She was just like virtually every other 14-year old girl in the whole state of Arkansas. She didn't think a thing in the world about sharing information with what she thought was somebody close to her age," said Beebe.
Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin said the regional lab, which will be included in the Internet Crimes Against Children Network, will also help law enforcement agencies outside Jonesboro.
"Our children, and I think you'll agree, are one of the most precious resources we have and I think also the proliferation of the internet and we find those children very vulnerable," said Perrin. "We have to take those children in this age of technology and requires I think new partnerships and increased commitment by all agencies at several levels."
"When I was attorney general we had a whole vocabulary of acronyms that the kids use that parents don't know anything about that's short hand for how they communicate on the web," said Beebe.
No one answered when Beebe asked a simple question.
"Does anybody know what pos stands for, parent over shoulder," said Beebe. "Kids are kids. They don't want their parents knowing the secrets of what they're telling their other folks but what that does is it lends itself, you see, to the ability of predators to be able to take advantage of kids without the parent's knowledge."
According to ICAC, Jonesboro reported 20 cases of computer child pornography compared to 251 in the state of Arkansas. It also reported 73 computers or other equipment that had forensic analysis, compared to 521 in the state.
"You have to be constantly on top of it and they need equipment and they need the training paid for because you need all the money you can gather just to keep the police officers on the streets to keep the bad guys from hurting everybody else," said Beebe. "It's a good day because there's a lot of confidence by the people in little rock with regard to the Jonesboro police department. There's certainly a lot of confidence in my office with regards to the Jonesboro police office."