JEFFERSON CITY — The Republican candidate for attorney general, Mike Gibbons, announced a proposal Monday in Columbia for a new Cyber Crimes Unit in the attorney general's office. Gibbons said the new office would work to protect children from Internet predators as well as decrease the number of online-based crimes in the state.
Gibbons' proposal would create a team with one lawyer, two investigators and a computer forensics expert to work together when Internet crimes arise. This team would then work with the pre-existing regional task forces and law enforcement agencies.
But Gibbons' opponent for the attorney general's seat, Chris Koster, said the state doesn't need to create a new Cyber Crimes Unit because it already has one.
In 2001, current Attorney General Jay Nixon established a cyber crimes initiative under the Internet 2000 crime bill, which targeted different areas of Internet crime.
"The unit exists, and Sen. Koster will make sure that the attorney general's office aggressively prosecutes cyber crimes with the existing unit and resources that are in place," said Danny Kanner, spokesman for the Koster campaign.
Gibbons called Internet crime a "21st century threat" and said individuals who use the Internet as a weapon are "very sophisticated operators." He said with the increasing popularity and use of the Internet in homes, there were more opportunities for individuals to use the Internet as a weapon.
Joe Laramie, director of the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said that the number of arrests for these types of crimes has increased over the past three years as more law enforcement agencies have targeted Internet crime.
"Our investigative techniques do indicate that there are potentially thousands of predators and people who share child pornography on the Internet," Laramie said.
Gibbons said he wants the new division to be operational by his first day in office, if he were to be elected Missouri's attorney general. But he didn't have an estimate as to how much the new unit would cost the state.
"We want to have a team ready to go and mobilize at any time," Gibbons said. "We're hoping to do it with existing personnel."
The Cyber Crimes Unit would also create a tip line so that citizens could turn in information to law enforcement agencies more easily.
Creating an office within the attorney general's office, Gibbons said, would help centralize communication between regional task forces and would create a hub for dealing with these sorts of crimes.
"The theory is that everyone should be communicating and sharing resources," Laramie said. "The whole purpose of having this task force system is so we know who to call."
Agencies that receive state funding toward their operation, such as the Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force located in Boone County, would then have another ally in the fight to end Internet crime. But the new Cyber Crimes Unit could also aid smaller counties without resources to target this type of crime specifically.
"This could help us quite a bit in some of these counties that don't have quite the resources that Boone County does," said Detective Andy Anderson, coordinator of the Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force. The task force focuses on Internet crimes against children.
Anderson said that Gibbons' wider scope could help make the state safer.
"I think we've proven that on Internet crimes and a few other crimes, quite frankly, that the task force methodology is the best and most productive way of investigating these crimes," he said.