Here’s how a typical investigation works: a technology company like Google, Facebook or Microsoft reports illegal content found on their platforms to the national center, which generates a “cyber tip” and analyzes the submitted content. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children figures out where the intelligence should go. Once local officers have that information, they file multiple search warrants, build evidence and form probable cause to arrest and prosecute a suspect.
As of Feb. 17, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children already had generated 44 cyber tips for Southwest Washington this year, according to Graaff. Last year, the police department’s cybercrime unit received 54 tips, he said.
“Generally speaking, about five years ago we would get about 15 tips,” Graaff said.
One sergeant, three detectives, two civilian investigators and an in-house Department of Homeland Security special agent make up the police department’s cybercrime unit. By law, only police officers and the civilian investigators can view the illegal content.
The group works closely with two sheriff’s deputies, Craig McCollum and Justin Messman. McCollum previously worked out of the cybercrime unit’s office, at the Vancouver Police Department’s West Precinct, until 2018, when the county made cuts throughout departments. He was recalled to the sheriff’s office, where he continues to do computer forensics. One year after the change, the county hired Messman, largely due to the deluge of cyber tips.