MEDFORD, Ore. – Two police officers descend upon a Medford apartment complex. After a courteous knock on the door, an accused child porn trader is escorted out and placed in handcuffs.
The whole process takes no longer than a few minutes — an abrupt ending to an investigation hundreds of man-hours in the making.
“I’ve worked cases that have taken me, one case, a couple of months literally – man hours, full time – to go through one case,” said Brandon Bloomfield, a Forensic Examiner with the High-Tech Crimes Task Force.
Each report of child pornography, among the highest priority cases for the task force, goes through a lengthy forensic and judicial process. First, it’s narrowed down to a physical address or location, then probable cause is established.
Once they get a search warrant, that’s when the on-the-ground detective work can begin.
“I don’t truly know what I’m going to find, or who I’m going to find, until I knock on that door and open it up and see who’s there,” said Mike Vanderlip, a Detective with the task force.
The search warrant is one of the most unpredictable and potentially dangerous moments for any officer on the team because it represents the first contact with an accused predator.
Before going out, the entire team knows who lives inside and what their schedules are. They know the number of pets, cars, and nearby parking spots.
And they know who is going in, who’s watching the perimeter, and what kind of force they’re authorized to use.
“I’ve been on search warrants where, unfortunately, we’ve had to arrest people for things other than the search warrant that we were there for,” said Bloomfield. “So that makes things a little more tense.”
But that search warrant is their best chance of proving the user behind the device.
In order to make a strong case for arrest, the team will seize computers, smartphones, and tablets. They’ll slowly sift through terabytes of data, not only to find the files they’re looking for, but when they were made and who made them. It’s an exhaustive process, because it isn’t just on them to get predators off the streets.
From the moment probable cause is established, the task force works hand-in-hand with prosecution.
“I’m looking at it through a legal lens,” said Ruby Herriot, an attorney with the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office. “How can I take all of the pieces of this case, put it together, and present it in court in a way that a jury is going to find them guilty?”
If the task force can prove possession of child pornography – that’s a year to a year-and-a-half in jail.
If they can prove distribution, that’s up to four years in jail.
“I want for my children, for other people’s children, for just the community to be able to have a safe environment,” said Herriot.
Thanks to the task force, three Southern Oregon kids were saved last year — victims who otherwise would have suffered continued violation and abuse.
In the end, they say that is what keeps them going.
“We don’t have a lot of cases where we have live victims within our jurisdiction,” said Senior Forensic Examiner Mike Anderson. “But when we do, and we’re able to get them out of that situation, it’s very rewarding.”
Click here to see part 1 of the three-part series on the High-Tech Crimes Task Force\
Click here to see part 2 of the three-part series on the High-Tech Crimes Task Force