Sheriff’s Office tracking down child pornographers
For the last six months, a St. Charles Parish Sheriff's officer has been combing the Internet to find those who are downloading child pornography. And while he is forced to see graphic and disturbing images and videos, he is confident that his work will lead to arrests and save victims.
The officer, who asked to remain anonymous so as not to hamper future investigations, has over 30 years of computer experience and was once in the department's information technology department. He is currently assigned to an Internet crimes task force under the direction of the attorney general's office and is the parish's first officer dedicated exclusively to tracking downloaders of child porn.
To track down child pornography, the officer scours file trading sites. These sites, such as Napster and Limewire, allow users to trade pictures, music and videos online.
“These people are putting their computers out there by sharing their files,” he said. “It's legal for us to see if they are sharing child pornography because they are doing so in the public domain.”
Last month, the officer helped track down a 36-year-old Destrehan man who allegedly downloaded several explicit videos involving children.
“After that arrest became public, there was hardly anyone else trying to download child pornography in St. Charles Parish,” he said.
But it's not just file transfer sites that the officer searches, he also visits chat rooms and social media sites like Facebook.
“Recently, we found a guy who was contacting young girls on Facebook so that he could meet up with them,” he said. “He had even traveled across three states in some instances to meet up with these girls.”
That's the scary thing about the Internet. Because more and more families now have online access, that means that children are constantly online. Predators know this and go where the children are.
“When I started here in the late 70's, you went to a playground to try to catch predators,” the officer said. “Now, children are online so that's where the predators are.”
While searching social media sites and chat rooms is a way to nab predators, most of the child pornography that is available online comes from overseas.
“For instance, in Japan it's legal to own child porn,” he said. “I think a bulk of the videos and pictures are made overseas and then downloaded in the United States. That makes it hard to stop. What we can do is make sure that people who view this material are caught.”
A database of all known child pornography images helps officers around the country do just that. When a photo is taken, it has a unique serial number that stays with the image no matter how many times it is duplicated. When officers see a photo that is suspect online, they compare it to the database to see if it is in fact a known child pornography image.
“The scary thing is when you find an image that is not in the database,” the officer said. “Then the person could have access to a child and they are creating their own child pornography.”
And that image is circulated all over the net, which means the child is continuously victimized.
“The average citizen might ask why we are trying to catch people who download this stuff in the comfort of their own homes, but these images can't be removed so they stay online and the minor is victimized over and over again when someone views them,” Sheriff Greg Champagne said. “That's why we are trying to find the people who download this stuff and that's why the penalties are so stiff.”
While the fines are stiff, so is the cost to find and arrest child pornographers. Technology is changing everyday and the Sheriff's Office will need new equipment to adapt.
“I have been dealing with computers since the 70's and there are guys out there who know how to do stuff that I can't do,” the officer said. “Instead of an arms race, it's a computer race to keep up with the technology.
“Child pornography is going to be here long after I'm dead, but we have to stay on top of it and make a difference now.”
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