(KWWL) — We all want to keep our children safe, both in life and online.
For Iowans, it may be hard to believe that since 2008 cases of internet crimes against kids have jumped 1,200%. Data like this has prompted state authorities to get creative in how they investigate cyber crimes against kids.
They’ve even enlisted the help of man’s best friend and taking the lab work to the scene of the crime.
Earlier this year, the task force got Mousse, an electronic detection K9. Mousse detects the scent of common chemicals found in electronics such as SD cars, computers, flash drives, and anything else that could electronically hide child porn.
With a dog’s sense of smell far surpassing that of humans, they can detect that unique scent through ground, clothing, and sometimes even water.
When they’re not using her skills to investigate Mousse’s handler Special Agent Mike McVey spends their days training at the Iowa State Patrol office in Cedar Rapids.
“The people who are who are victimizing these children are using electronic devices, whether it be a cell phone or a computer or laptop to communicate with them,” McVey said. “Then the dog is is beneficial in finding those devices when they’re hidden.”
Sadly, the crimes can go beyond child pornography and delve into sexual exploitation.
“We call it sextortion sometimes,” said Special Agent in Charge Nathaniel McLaren.
For several years, Agent McLaren has served as the commander for the Iowa Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, the regional arm of a federal agency combating those who would cause a child harm when they’re online.
“They may gain the trust of the child through different means of saying they’re the same age, same problems, same issues at school, get to know each other, and maybe they’re able to get a photo of them,” McLaren said.
Using grant money, the ICAC task force outfitted a van to act as a mobile forensic lab, allowing investigators to process evidence on scene.
“On scene we’re able to triage devices and determine if we need to seize a computer that has contraband on it, and or cellular devices or any type of just any type of electronic device we may need to seize,” Agent McLaren said.
While 2020 brought the task force Mousse and the lab it also brought more cases.
“So, after COVID hit and schools closed we did see a vast uptick in cases coming in,” Mclaren said, noting that many of their tips come from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They also come through internet providers, social media platforms, victims themselves, concerned family or friends.
To preserve the evidence that would put offenders in jail, the task force has to be cautious with processing the contraband found on an electronic storage device.
“When we do computer forensics we use what are called write blockers. Write blockers allow us to access and gain information. The material, located on the storage device without changing anything,” Agent McLaren said.
Of course, they have to find that evidence first and that’s why Mousse is so important.
The interest in dogs with Mousse’s capabilities took off after an electronic detection K9 found hidden evidence in the high profile investigation of Jared Fogle, the former Subway spokesman who confessed to possessing child pornography.
“What started my company was once everybody saw the dog and saw the dog actually working is when everybody decided they wanted one,” said Todd Jordan, who trained that dog in the Fogle investigation.
Following that success, Jordan started Jordan Detection K9. So far, he’s trained about 45 dogs in total, knowing that this work is what he was meant to do.
“A terabyte of storage can hold 200-300,000 images and if you think about that each image is a victim,” Todd said.
All three men agree that protecting our children from online dangers is their calling.
“The Internet shrinks the world really fast they could be talking to somebody next door or they could be talking to somebody halfway around the world,” McLaren said.
Mousse also benefits the kids in ways other than just finding evidence to convict their offender.
It will help them, you know, interact with us, whether we’re interviewing them or if they’re just upset. We have used her during some interviews, and we’ve used her during some search warrants where the kids are at the scene,” Mousse’s handler, Special Agent Mike McVey, said.
Mousse’s training was paid for by Operation Underground Railroad, an advocacy group that aims to “rescue children from sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.”
Additional resources can be found below:
The Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-362-2178
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Cyber Tip Line