ELLSWORTH — The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office has added another tool in its arsenal to investigate crimes, primarily internet crimes against children involving the manufacture and distribution of child pornography.
Sheriff Scott Kane informed the Hancock County Commissioners Tuesday about a partnership with the Maine State Police and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which will mean the task force and its specialized staff will analyze devices—phones and computers—suspected to contain child pornography for the local sheriff’s office.
“Chief [Deputy Patrick] Kane and I have talked for several years to see if there’s some way we could do this with the cost of analyzing the equipment and the training,” the sheriff told the board.
“We had a strike of good luck, one of our local boys [Maine State Police Detective Tom Pickering] was promoted to sergeant” at the task force, he said.
“We’ve always had a great working relationship with Sgt. Pickering,” the sheriff said. “He had an idea two months ago where if we had a case, they would assist us with search warrants and seizing the equipment. They would then send the cases to us and we would do the actual on-the-ground investigation. We’re pretty excited about this.”
The state police will forward any tips about cases to the sheriff’s office.
“We’ll be the first ones in the state that do this,” Kane said. “They’ve got the equipment in place and the analysts all trained. It’s going to give us a priority. I’ve got some pretty damn good investigators here so it’s a win/win all the way around.”
Pickering until this summer had been an investigator for the state police Major Crimes Unit.
“I don’t need to emphasize how important these cases are,” Pickering told the commissioners.
The investigator said recently there was a cyber tip in southern Maine, which led investigators to a child pornography production case, which had occurred years prior in another large city in Maine. The children were still in the environment and the police were able to get them out, Pickering said.
“Right now, we field cyber tips that come in through electronic service providers,” said Pickering. That involves “a lot of child pornography, dissemination, distribution and production.”
There are five investigators for the state of Maine, he said. Only one is employed by the state police, the rest are funded through the US Department of Justice.
“The number of cyber tips coming into us, it’s grown to an exponential level,” Pickering said. “When I joined in June, they had almost covered what they’d done the year before.”
So, having local detectives able to investigate the crimes uncovered by the task force and to move on tips received will help.