LACONIA — Local law enforcement officials were worried that any disruption in state funding for a program to investigate internet crimes against children would make it harder to investigate incidents of child pornography and child trafficking.
But House lawmakers Thursday voted overwhelmingly to put the money back into the budget after criticism from law enforcement officials and Gov. Chris Sununu, who had included the $500,000 in his budget proposal.
The Forensic Shield grant supplements federal funding for the Internet Crimes Against Children task force. The task force provides technical expertise in the investigation of child prostitution, online solicitation of minors and the possession, manufacturing and distribution of child pornography.
“The task force is the most critical resource in investigating these kinds of crimes,” said Belknap County Sheriff Mike Moyer, who worked with the agency when he was with the Laconia Police Department, including four years as police chief.
Laconia’s current police chief, Matt Canfield, said the level of expertise the task force brings to these investigations is crucial.
“Online computer forensics is a science unto itself,” he said. “That’s where the expertise of the ICAC comes into play.”
While individual police departments are in charge of each investigation, ICAC has the high-tech equipment and professional know-how to perform detailed forensics analysis of a cell phone or computer in order to pinpoint information such as where particular online communications originated, and how often they were accessed or viewed.
Canfield said Thursday that Laconia police are investigating a new case that originated from a call to the ICAC tip line. He said with nearly 80 registered sex offenders living in Laconia, having ICAC’s resources available is critical when it comes to keeping tabs on the activities of those who have a history of sex crimes against minors.
“Getting into mobile devices is a challenge,” said Canfield. “(ICAC has) the additional technological capacity to do this.”
Moyer said that Belknap Sheriff’s Department is not involved in these kinds of cases. But he noted that the state Sheriff’s Association urged the $500,000 in ICAC money be returned to the state budget.
According to ICAC, since last July 1 the task force has received more than 400 online tips, processed 429 cell phones, executed 142 search warrants and made 30 arrests. There have been 35 cases of child enticements, more than 100 cases of possession of child sex abuse images (pornography), 75 cases of distributing such images and 40 cases of manufacturing images.
ICAC said state funding would be used to purchase new equipment, educate the public, and train local police in dealing with online activities which exploit children.
Last year two area people were convicted of child pornography charges.
Jonathan Bristow, 56, of New Hampton, is currently service a four- to nine-year sentence on three counts of possessing child pornography.
Brad Smith, 34, of Franklin, was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison for producing child pornography.