MERIDIAN, Idaho — In 2021 alone, the Idaho Internet Crimes Against Children Unit investigated more than 400 cases, which led to 15 arrests. Officials told KTVB since the pandemic, the unit has seen an increase in child exploitation cases.
As a response to the increase, ICAC hosted a training event on Thursday for police and prosecutors to help them better investigate and prosecute these cases. The training included what to do once they get a report of exploitation, executing search warrants, how to interview potential suspects and why that's different than in other cases.
Since this time last year, ICAC conducted nearly 800 investigations, which resulted in 51 arrests.
“These predators will prey on one opportunity, who do they have the opportunity to connect with and prey on, but some of them have a preference of ages and or gender and we see the whole gamut of victims in these cases,” Tamara Pittz, the criminal investigator with the Idaho Attorney General's ICAC Unit, told KTVB.
She said the increased cases are due in large part to the coronavirus pandemic.
“With the kids doing school work from home last year with COVID under quarantine, each kid was given a device, and, in some cases, they were given a hot spot to access the internet. Unfortunately, there was no training or monitoring systems in place that would prevent kids from accessing sites they shouldn’t or communicating with people they shouldn’t, the schools do their best, but they don’t have the resources to devote monitoring to that,” Pittz said.
As a result, they saw the number of cases in Idaho increase almost 93% from 2019 to 2020, according to ICAC. As of Thursday, ICAC has more than 1,145 cyber-tips in the queue, which they told KTVB illustrates the need for additional law enforcement agencies to be able to conduct this type of investigation.
So, what can people do to help prevent this from happening to their children?
Pittz encouraged parents to take advantage of resources out there like netsmartz, which is operated through the National Center for Missing Exploited Children. She also said parents should be engaged with their child and know what they’re doing on electronic devices and who they're talking to. She also recommended going to the ICAC website.
This was the third training ICAC has done this year. The first one took place in Nampa, then Pocatello and now Meridian.
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