COLONIE — As crime moves with the world into an increasingly digital sphere, the Colonie Police Department is making a continued effort to curb many online crimes, including the sale of and viewing of child pornography.
Colonie Police Lt. Robert Winn said that computer crimes do appear to be on the rise right now due to the fact that everything has a computer related to it.
“Everyone’s life is being lived online,” Winn said. However, Colonie’s dedication to tackling computer crimes has been ongoing for at least two decades, according to Winn. Back in the 90s, Winn said, officers not only understood that digital crime was the way of the future, but were also aware that evidence could be gathered from computers and other digital devices as well.
However, as going digital has made it easier to find evidence, it has also made it easier for criminals, particularly predators, to gain access to victims.
“If you think of all the ways that the internet has made our lives easier, it’s also made criminal activity easier,” Winn said.
He said that the internet is now being used as a tool not only to bully and harass, but also to sexually exploit people. The internet, said Winn, has made the potential victim pool for these sexual crimes much larger. Now, Winn said, predators don’t have to physically break into a would-be victim’s home. Instead, criminals are able to access young children via the computer, and social media sites.
The U.S. has the largest share of commercialized child pornography websites, according to the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection, an industry estimated to have an annual revenue of $3 billion. While the Colonie Police Department makes ten to 12 arrests relating to child pornography per year, according to Winn, the department also works on many more such cases with both State Police and the FBI.
Winn said that the department has special investigators who become involved, and said that those organizations have “an incredible bank of resources we can draw on.”
The investigators become involved when there is a possibility of digital media containing forensic evidence, or when there are situations in which crimes are committed online, such as cyber-bullying, or other types of harassment, including sexual harassment. Investigators frequently pose as would-be young victims in order to catch predators, and also to ascertain who is trading and viewing child pornography. Law enforcement also frequently visits schools to teach students about internet safety.
There has not been a spike in police efforts to catch predators, said Winn. Instead, police and other law enforcement agencies are simply becoming more efficient at recognizing issues and stopping them before more children fall victim to the pornography industry. However, the speed at which technology evolves is a hurdle police are continuously being forced to jump over.
“We’re all getting better at recognizing and investigating these types of crimes,” Winn said. “We’re trying to stay up to pace with it.”