Boca Raton nonprofit hunts child-porn offenders

Within seconds of logging into the Child Rescue Coalition system, a rainbow of dots pops up across a map of the world like an explosion of confetti.

The data being displayed, however, is no reason to celebrate.

Child Rescue Coalition, a Boca Raton-based nonprofit, tracks 30 million to 50 million online files of child abuse imagery each day. Lists generated by the coalition have led to the recent arrests of a Weston attorney, a Davie substitute teacher and a Lauderdale Lakes man who coached gymnastics in Jupiter.

“The software is the greatest reliable informant for law enforcement in Internet Crimes Against Children investigations,” said Greg Schiller, Palm Beach County Assistant State Attorney.

The software, dubbed the Child Protection System, detects IP addresses linked to devices downloading lewd photos and videos of children and displays the data on a map in real time. Trained law enforcement officers have free access to the maps and can view a list that ranks the IP addresses by level of activity.

“What we’re doing is viewing public requests,” said Colleen Lockwood, vice president of advancement for the coalition. “It’s kind of like a police officer standing on the street corner of the Internet watching a crime walk by.”

Law enforcement agencies in 57 countries and all 50 U.S. states use the software. Nearly 6,000 arrests made in the past three years and the direct rescue of more than 1,000 children from abuse can be attributed to the software, Lockwood said.

The total number of investigators, prosecutors and forensic examiners trained on the system serving Palm Beach and Broward is about 25, Lockwood said. This number includes investigators who are outside of the counties but are working cases in those jurisdictions, such as investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Among the agencies using the system are the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Broward Sheriff’s Office, Boynton Beach Police Department and Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Lockwood said. It costs the nonprofit $250 to train an investigator to use the system, and one trained investigator mayrescue three children per year, she said.

The State Attorney’s Office in Palm Beach County also has created a Sexual Predator Enforcement Unit task force that gives police officers from individual cities the authority to track offenders outside of their jurisdictions using the software.
Before the software was made available to law enforcement in Palm Beach County, the State Attorney’s Office saw about two or three child pornography arrests a year, Schiller said. That number has since jumped to 30 to 50 arrests a year.

“We have a tool to proactively go after [offenders],” Schiller said. “What an unbelievable opportunity.”

The coalition stands out, Schiller said, because it’s made up of people who are advancing technology and know what’s needed to catch offenders who spend much of their time trying to hide.

“Of course there are other softwares out there, but [the coalition] really listens to what’s going on out in the field with law enforcement,” Schiller said.

The number of arrests in Palm Beach and Broward attributable to the software is about 400, Lockwood said. Those are cases prosecuted locally; it does not include federal investigations that involve local residents.

Many offenders found through the system never before have been detained in a child pornography case, officials said. But the system helps puts an end to that.

“We are trying to solve the problem of child exploitation,” she said. “We are tracking — for the vast part — offenders who are flying under law enforcement’s radar.”