COLUMBIA — A local law enforcement agency will receive a large chunk of stimulus funds to help fight cyber crimes across the state.
Gov. Jay Nixon announced the grant Monday in Columbia. The Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force will receive $194,479, an amount making up about 13 percent of the $1.5 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Justice Assistance grant being dispersed among 13 internet crime units across the state.
The federal money replaces state funding for the units that was slashed from the budget during the 2009 legislative session.
Despite the Missouri Department of Public Safety's request of $3 million in general revenue to fund the units and Nixon's recommendation of $1 million to fund the units in his proposed budget for the 2010 fiscal year, no state funds will go toward the units in 2010. The final budget bill proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, contained no allocations to the program.
Internet crimes units were given $1.16 million in general revenue appropriation in 2008.
Nixon toured the task force’s cramped two-room office and was given demonstrations by officers on how they conduct their investigations, such as how they search confiscated hard drives and track movement of child pornography through peer-to-peer file-sharing programs such as LimeWire.
As Nixon stood before a group of local law enforcement officers that included Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton and MU Police Chief Jack Watring, he stressed the importance of policing the Internet during a rapidly changing digital age.
“Advances in technology have given criminals new access to our lives and to the lives of our children,” Nixon said. “Predators who used to be confined to dark alleys can now get on the Internet and gain a direct line of access into our homes, our schools and our libraries.”
Nixon said he will include funding for the task forces in his budget recommendation next year after the one-time federal stimulus money has been dispersed.
“We’ll find the money,” he said.
The unit is composed of four full-time officers from both the Columbia Police Department and the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and one part-time officer from the MU Police Department.
Columbia Police Detective Mike Lederle, a member of the unit who primarily focuses on forensics investigations, said the unit could double its size and still keep busy.
“We just need additional resources because there’s so much of this type of crime out there,” he said.
Andy Anderson, the coordinator for the task force and a detective with the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, said that considering the number of officers in the unit, it is “touching the tip of the iceberg” in terms of catching criminals online.
“There’s so much crime going on out there against families and children that it’s absolutely mind-boggling,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the investigations conducted by the unit are lengthy and “labor-intensive.” Depending on the type of online crime, the average length of time for investigations can range from 30 days to six months.
Since the unit began operations on Jan. 1, 2007, it has conducted 297 investigations and has charged 58 subjects, as of July 24. In that time, the unit has also identified or rescued 22 children between the ages of 3 and 16 years old and has issued 71 search warrants.
The task force, which serves Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard and Randolph counties, is receiving the second-largest appropriation of federal assistance money in the state. The Western Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force in Platte County is receiving $208,591.
The task force is funded chiefly through private grants, and the salaries and equipment costs for three of the officers are shouldered by their respective departments.