Computer Crimes Unit combats growing chid porn problem
CASCO (WGME) -- Tracking down Mainers who view or collect child pornography is the job of the State Police Computer Crimes Unit, and it's a task that's getting bigger each and every year.
Justin Kittredge is on the front lines in the fight against child exploitation; what the Department of Justice calls one of fastest growing crimes in America.
"In the number of years I've been in law enforcement, this is no doubt the most meaningful and most important thing I've ever done," said Kittredge.
Kittredge is a Special Agent with the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit, which is a team of 15 detectives and analysts lead by Lieutenant Glenn Lang.
On a bitter January morning, the team headed into the field to act on tips that led to search warrants for child pornography cases in Casco.
The detectives said it typically starts with a simple door knock, to figure out whether anyone in the house is looking at illegal images.
With the warrant., detectives can take any devices that may contain clues, like laptops, iPads or flashdrives. The items are given to analysts, who look for evidence inside one of the unit's two retrofitted cargo vans.
The on-site analysis is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Finding evidence right away not only keeps cases from piling up at the Vassalboro office, but can also lead to an admission and arrest the same day. Kittredge said if a suspect has direct access to kids, it's important to make an arrest quickly.
"Most importantly, so we can establish bail conditions to protect children," said Kittredge.
Detectives arrested one suspect in the morning, and hours later, while executing a second warrant, a second Casco man was taken away in handcuffs. This time, it was Joseph Payton, 22, the Animal Control Officer in Windham. Both men are charged with one count possession of sexually explicit material under the age of 12.
Lang said two arrests in one small town reflect the magnitude of the problem.
"It's huge," said Lang. "It's absolutely huge."
And statistics from the computer crimes unit show it's growing every year. In 2011, the team investigated 208 child exploitation cases. In 2012, that figure jumped to 350. And in 2013, they investigated 537 cases.
Land said he knows his team is making an impact one case at a time.
"Because of the charges we've filed, the world knows, and in that regard, I think we make the world a safer place for children," he said.
On Sunday, just about one month after his initial arrest, Payton was arrested again for violating bail conditions that he not have or use computer equipment and the Internet.
Payton is now being held without bail at the Cumberland County Jail, pending a hearing. When we reached out to him, he declined to comment.