FREDERICK CO. CYBER CRIME TASK FORCE SEES MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS: Fights to Protect Children from Online Predators During COVID-19
FREDERICK, MD – State’s Attorney Charlie Smith was joined this morning by leadership from the Frederick Police Department, Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Maryland State Police, Federal partners from the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), along with members of the Frederick County Cyber Crime Task Force to announce major successes in combating online crime in Frederick County.
“At a time when more children are online than ever due to COVID-19, it is critical that law enforcement remains focused on combating the unwavering threats posed by cyber predators. We want to remind the community that even as we face this unprecedented pandemic, hard-working detectives and prosecutors are on the job to keep your children safe.” State’s Attorney Smith commented.
The Frederick County Cyber Crime Task Force (FCCCTF) was formed in May 2019 as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the State’s Attorney’s Office, Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, and Frederick Police Department. The mission of the FCCCTF is to investigate, apprehend, and prosecute internet sexual predators who exploit children through the use of the internet and technology, consistent with Maryland Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force standards and procedures. “The Cyber Crime Task Force has proven to be a very effective partnership and a necessary law enforcement resource in identifying and taking cyber predators, those that target children, off of our streets with a more aggressive prosecution, said Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins adding, “All of the agencies involved in the FCCCTF have demonstrated their commitment to the mission and the investigators assigned to the unit have quickly become very effective in what they do. I recognize the increasing need to address these on-line predators that can gain access to and sexually exploit children anywhere. I only see the task force growing in size and becoming more effective over time in building strong cases and the swift prosecution of offenders.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) plays a critical role in forwarding cyber tips to law enforcement agencies. The Cyber Tip Line reports of suspected child sexual exploitation rose from 983,734 reports in March 2019 to 2,027,520 in March 2020, a 106% increase. NCMEC vice president John Shehan recently said, “COVID-19 has presented challenges and opportunities in the fight against child sexual exploitation. In the first quarter of 2020, NCMEC became aware of predators openly discussing the pandemic as an opportunity to entice unsupervised children into producing sexually explicit material.” Locally, from January 1, 2020 to October 31, 2020, Maryland saw 4,711 tips of which 163 were from Frederick County. In 2019, the Task Force conducted undercover online chat operations that concluded with seven arrests of defendants that traveled to Frederick County to have sex with minors.
The Maryland State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force receives tips from NCMEC and conducts Statewide investigations. Tips are then sent to Frederick County law enforcement to investigate alleged criminal activity. “The Maryland State Police is proud to be a partner with Frederick County law enforcement in the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force,” Maryland State Police Superintendent Colonel Woodrow W. Jones III, said. “I commend the investigators who are committed to protecting our children against those who use such insidious methods to harm them and perpetuate the scourge of child pornography. I am grateful for the members of the State’s Attorney’s Office who are dedicated to prosecuting these criminals to the fullest extent of the law.”
Collaboration with Federal law enforcement partners has been key to the success of the FCCCTF. “Frederick City and County have taken bold steps to help protect children, as online predators are more active than ever right now,” said Jennifer C. Boone, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Baltimore Field Office. “The FBI is only as strong as our partnerships and we appreciate the hard work that is being done to open more doors for law enforcement to be proactive instead of reactive.” Federal specialized resources provided include forensic examiners, enhanced technical services for encrypted devices and intrusion experts, and national and international Internet Service Provider and law enforcement contacts. Working with Federal prosecutors can also yield stronger sentences and sex offender supervision. First-time offenders have Maryland Guidelines of Probation to 2 years versus Federal Mandatory Minimums of 5 to 10 years. Maryland maximum supervised probation is 5 years and 15 years for a Tier I offense versus Federal lifetime registry and supervision.
The State’s Attorney’s Office has more than tripled the number of child sexual exploitation prosecutions in Frederick County since 2019. Fifteen defendants faced prosecution from 2017-19 on state charges. Since 2019, fifty-four defendants have been prosecuted, with seven additional facing Federal charges.
An important focus of the Task Force partnership has been pushing a legislative effort in Annapolis to enact laws that address the issues facing investigators. HB1027/SB736 expanded Maryland’s child pornography law to include “lascivious exhibition”. Legislators also added language that allows prosecution of pornographic content featuring computer-generated images that are indistinguishable from an actual child. HB246/SB231 expanded the current Sexual Solicitation of a Minor law to include the prohibition of the sexual solicitation of a child through their parent, guardian, or custodian. The bill also added an enhanced 20-year penalty for a second or subsequent offense. These changes demonstrate that the legislature acknowledges the growing number of online child sexual exploitation cases and the public policy need to respond to protect children from victimization. In 2021, the Task Force will look to address sentencing for Child Pornography and Solicitation of Minors by advocating for stronger penalties before the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy. State’s Attorney Smith added, “First-time offenders are far too often granted Probation Before Judgement (PBJ) by judges. Given the high recidivism rate among sex offenders and the severe trauma these young victims endure, we simply must do more to protect our children from predators.”
Frederick Police Lt. Andrew Alcorn believes this relationship will only continue to grow saying, “The Frederick Police Department is appreciative to have the opportunity to collaborate on this topic and these cases with our partners. The information sharing and resources that each individual from each discipline and agency brings to the table is invaluable to the success of the team. We look forward to working with our partners moving forward for continued success.”