By Charles McMahon
Law enforcement officials from throughout the state gathered Thursday at City Hall to recognize U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte for her efforts in helping protect children from sexual exploitation.
Ayotte, R-N.H., received praise for her long-standing efforts to bolster Internet Crimes Against Children, a national program in New Hampshire based out of the Portsmouth Police Department.
The former prosecutor and N.H. attorney general helped strengthen training and technical assistance for law enforcement nationwide through the ICAC Task Force as Congress wrote the Child Protection Act of 2012, which was signed into law last month.
Ayotte also helped enact the Online Child Safety Act in 2008, which toughened penalties for individuals who use the Internet to commit crimes against children. She also helped develop and pass the Child Protection Act in 2006, which included a provision that gave prosecutors the ability to seek prison sentences of 25 years for the worst first-time offenders.
"It is critical that we protect our children from online predators," Ayotte said Thursday while flanked by law enforcement officials inside council chambers.
Calling ICAC a "very important effort," Ayotte said she was thankful for the recognition, but she felt those in law enforcement deserved the praise. "I'm a small part of this," she said, adding the law enforcement officials standing behind her do the important work every day.
Ayotte said that while there has been progress, online crimes against children have steadily increased in severity over the years.
"Rapidly changing technology gives online perpetrators new ways to victimize children, making it harder for police to identify and prosecute those criminals," she said. "Not every department has the resources to stay on the cutting edge of these crimes, which makes the ICAC Task Force an invaluable resource for agencies on the Seacoast and across our state."
Attending the event were Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams, Portsmouth Mayor Eric Spear, representatives of the N.H. attorney general's office, New Hampshire chiefs of police, and local detectives and police officials.
Reams, who worked with Ayotte when she was attorney general, said the Child Protection Act of 2012 makes it easier for law enforcement agencies throughout the country to work together.
Having been involved with ICAC since 1999, Reams said he has also witnessed the penalties for child Internet crimes become more severe, adding that much of that change comes in part to Ayotte's leadership as attorney general.
"We're getting sentences that are about seven times higher than they were when ICAC began in the 1990s," he said.
Reams said Ayotte's commitment to supporting ICAC and law enforcement has not wavered since she became a U.S. senator.
Despite all of the best efforts, Reams said child pornography and children being sexually abused for profit is an ever-changing crime that law enforcement is constantly trying to stay ahead of.
"We are behind and always trying to catch up to pornographers," he said.
Brad Russ, director of the ICAC Task Force Training and Technical Assistance program, spoke at the event. Russ, a retired Portsmouth police chief, said Ayotte's support is integral to investigating specific Internet-based crimes.
"(Her work) has proved critical in allowing us to bring a victim to a neutral place and allow them to be interviewed by a trained investigator," he said, which he added results in better outcomes for the victims and their families, as well.
According to Russ, since ICAC was founded, it has investigated more than 125,000 cases and arrested more than 33,000 people for online offenses against children. "Sen. Ayotte's leadership will help us continue to move that forward," he said.
Portsmouth Police Chief Stephen Dubois said that with Portsmouth leading the way, there are more than 60 affiliate agencies across the state that work with the task force.
Dubois said that over the years, the city has received more than $3 million in grant funding to continue the ICAC effort. During that time, the police department has helped provide training to more than 1,500 officers, 150 prosecutors and hundreds of community outreach programs. Since 2007, the police department has investigated more than 500 cases involving Internet crimes against children, resulting in more than 115 arrests, according to Dubois.
In particular, Dubois pointed to ICAC's work in the case of John Allen Wright, a local school bus driver for special-needs children, who was arrested in September 2011 and charged with filming child pornography on the bus using cameras hidden in glasses and pens. "Had it not been for Sen. Ayotte's commitment to protecting children and partnering with us on training, incidents such as these would remain secret," he said.
Ayotte receives manufacturing award
Ayotte on Thursday also received the National Association of Manufacturers award for Manufacturing Legislative Excellence, recognizing her support of policies critical to the success of manufacturing in the state and nation. The award was presented at Thermo Fisher Scientific on Post Road. In accepting the award, Ayotte said work done at Thermo Fisher Scientific is an example of why manufacturing jobs are so vital to the nation's economy.
"The more we can keep manufacturing in the United States, the more jobs we can keep here," she said.