BOSTON — Electronics used to commit heinous crimes like child pornography could be sold to fund victim rehabilitation and Internet safety training, under a new bill filed by a Westford representative.
Democratic state Rep. James Arciero’s bill, which would flip the use of those assets on their head, is now in the hands of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. And following support from Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, it could be slated for another favorable report moving forward.
The legislation would allow equipment “used in commission of child enticement and child pornography crimes” to be forensically wiped clean and then sold, according to a press release from Arciero’s office. The funds would go to local police and prosecutors, who then must use the money in certain ways.
The “narrowly tailored” bill, Koutoujian explained, would fund initiatives specifically counter to the actions of child pornography criminals: Internet-safety education programs, victim therapy and new technical equipment for police. The bill specifically notes that the sales cannot be used as a “source of revenue for the operating needs of any department,” according to Arciero’s office.
The “equipment” used in these crimes could include cameras, computers, cell phones and motor vehicles.
“I think there’s a bright future for this piece of legislation,” Koutoujian said in an interview. “Eventually I know that we’re going to have to do something about this (issue).
The sheriff’s office approached Arciero with the idea for the bill, Koutoujian said. He said he was inspired after visiting the cybercrime unit of the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council and seeing how depleted their resources were.
“They have this small lab that they worked out of,” he said. “It was under-resourced, it was under-funded; they were working really hard.”
He hopes the funds that would be generated by this bill help NEMLEC and other cybercrime units in some way, even if the sales from the forfeitures are not huge.
“This is some of the worst work too,” Koutoujian said, “and yet we’re not funding it.”
The bill was modeled off of drug forfeiture laws, which allow law enforcement to make money off of equipment that was used to traffic drugs.
“We have to have zero tolerance for those who engage in child pornography and enticement, and his bill is a common-sense approach to providing a new, modest source of funding to help protect our children — through internet education, purchase of technical equipment to keep up in the digital age to prevent heinous crimes,” Arciero said.
The representative called the bill a “no-brainer.”
Koutoujian, who used to work in the prosecutor’s office, said he saw firsthand “too many victims of child exploitation.”
Over 360 children were trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation in 2016, according to the National Crime Agency. The Crimes Against Children Research Center reports that one in five teenagers say they have received an “unwanted sexual solicitation” online.
Arciero, whose district includes Chelmsford and Littleton, testified with Koutoujian in favor of the bill at a hearing before the Judiciary Committee on Nov. 28. Last year, the same bill was reported favorably out of Judiciary, but did not make it out of House Ways and Means.
“The sheriff and I are actively fighting for its passage,” Arciero said.