Better monitoring, pandemic lead to increased tips for SD’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force

RAPID CITY, S.D. — A number of criminal sentences will be handed down this week, with those investigations assisted in large part by South Dakota’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

That group is part of the Justice Department. South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation is the state’s lead agency, and partners with local law enforcement statewide.

“Our primary focus is investigating internet crimes against children,” Special Assistant Attorney General for S.D. DCI and Commander of S.D. ICAC Toby Russell says. “Those are typically sexual offenses, ranging from possession of child pornography, online solicitation, sexual exploitation of a minor, and you know, a number of other related offenses.”

Most of those crimes are reported through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children by companies — like Facebook and Google — that monitor their web traffic.

“If they see something that is child pornography or child exploitation material, [as] we call it, they have to report it to NCMEC,” DCI Special Agent with ICAC Brian Freeouf says. “From there, they figure out where the IP address locates or phone number or any other identifiers.”

ICAC has seen a significant increase — roughly 300% — in cyber-tips over the last four years. Last year alone, they had more than 800 here in South Dakota.

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from the 2021 Pennington County Sheriff’s Office Annual Report

Russell says there’s several factors contributing to that rise, one being that companies are doing better, more effective monitoring.

The other? COVID.

“We had a situation where we had a significant period of time where children were doing a lot of their school online,” Russell says. “They were spending much more time online. Oftentimes, they may not have the immediate presence of a parent or guardian or other adult in there while they’re online.”

With unlimited geographical access thanks to the internet, investigating these crimes comes with a fair share of challenges.

“Technology is always changing, as far as even once we start an investigation, forensics are always changing for cell phones, computers…and sometimes our tools are just a little behind,” Freeouf says.

And a reminder: if you see something, say something. Make a report to local law enforcement, send a tip to NCMEC, and if you’re a child — tell a parent or trusted adult.

Categories: Crime, Local News, South Dakota News