ASHLAND, Ore. – An otherwise quiet morning at an Ashland apartment complex is interrupted by the unusual sight of a search warrant being carried out.
Seven officers wait outside, representing local law enforcement, FBI, the Department of Justice, and Homeland Security.
“We go out and we search for those who are trading child pornography, those who are victimizing children on the internet,” said Mike Anderson, a Senior Forensic Examiner with the High-Tech Crimes Task Force. “We go out and we search for them.”
Anderson’s team is one of the most elite groups of digital forensics experts in the country. Now an inter-agency unit, the High-Tech Crimes Task Force was created by Central Point Police in the mid-2000’s in response to the growing threat of online and high-tech crimes.
“Everyone has cellular phones, iPads, and tablets,” said Central Point Police Chief Kristine Allison. “Technology is always a factor in most crimes.”
Last year the task force took on 246 cases, taking them from Southern Oregon to the East Coast and overseas. Those cases were handled in partnership with both local law enforcement and national agencies.
They cover every crime imaginable, but their highest priority is child abuse.
“We’re helping those who can’t help themselves,” said Anderson. “That’s what it comes down to.”
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, child pornography cases grew more than 82% from 1994 to 2006. Of the images investigated, 83% involve pre-pubescent children.
The vast majority (80%) of the young victims are forced into sex, and roughly a fifth (21%) of all cases involve bondage, violence, and torture.
“There are degrading words written across their bodies, or they’re blindfolded, or they’re subjected to acts with animals, things like that,” said High-Tech Crimes Detective Mike Vanderlip.
It’s an act of violation that is copied and distributed millions of times across the world – and abuse that is emotionally, and quite literally, almost impossible to eradicate.
“Once it gets on the internet, it’s there forever,” said Vanderlip. “That abuse just continues every day, and probably for the rest of their lives.”
For those victims, some of whom in Southern Oregon, their hope and safety rest on an online hunt that is never-ending and impossibly vast, and the digital forensics experts who spend every day on that hunt.
“You’re almost literally trying to find that needle in a haystack in the digital world,” said Anderson.
Click here to see part 2 of the three-part series on the High-Tech Crimes Task Force
Click here to see part 3 of the three-part series on the High-Tech Crimes Task Force