Special report: "Not enough" investigators in Washtenaw County working on child pornography cases
A staggering increase in the number of child pornography prosecutions in the last decade across the nation hasn’t hit Washtenaw County.
But authorities say that doesn’t mean people here aren’t downloading inappropriate and disturbing pictures of children.
The reason for the low volume of cases, they say, is because seeking out purveyors of child pornography hasn’t been a focus for local law enforcement.
Currently, no local police agencies have detectives actively looking for those who possess or distribute child pornography. And that’s unfortunate, local prosecutors, police and experts say.
“There’s a kid behind (the pictures),” said Washtenaw County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Burke. “They’re being raped and having their picture being taken while being raped. It’s not a victimless crime.”
While local detectives investigate tips they receive, the handful of cases they pursue each year doesn’t make a dent in the number of area residents looking at child porn, authorities say.
“Clearly, there are a staggering number of people involved in child pornography, but the cases are time-consuming and there are not enough police officers with the training and time to develop more cases,” said Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie.
Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Detective Kevin Parviz is blunter when asked about the issue. He said it takes about 60 hours to analyze a hard drive -and that’s if there’s no encryption on it.
“Since January first of 2008, we have had no countywide forensic investigators,” said Parviz, who used to be a countywide forensic investigator. “Without a countywide forensic examiner, our department has become reactionary to these types of crimes.”
Sheriff’s Cmdr. Dieter Heren said funding is the issue.
“Law enforcement is tasked with trying to combat many different types of crimes and community issues with a limited number of resources,” Heren said. “Many agencies do not have the resources to proactively patrol the Internet independent of each other.”
Heren said the Sheriff’s Department is currently exploring joining a regional multi-agency team supported by Internet Crimes Against Children.
“Although we do not have a person solely dedicated to work child porn cases, we do have investigators that are capable of investigating crimes associated with child pornography,” he said.
Across the country, federal prosecutors brought more than 2,200 computer-based child exploitation cases, mostly against child porn viewers, last year alone. That’s more than double the amount of charges brought five years ago.
From 1994 to 2008, the number of federal child pornography charges has grown by more than 300 percent.
That growth has not been matched on the local level.
Since 1993, county prosecutors have charged 40 people with possessing, distributing or manufacturing child pornography. In comparison, last year alone, prosecutors charged 70 cases of criminal sexual conduct, which includes everything from forcible rapes to fondling incidents. Of those, 24 involved child victims.
The highest volume of child pornography prosecutions came in 2006 with seven cases, although one was later dismissed.
“We usually get these ancillary to something else,” Burke said.
Getting a complete count on the number of Washtenaw County residents charged with child pornography is tough, largely because both the state attorney general and federal prosecutors also handle child pornography cases.
For example, Peter Lukasavitz, a 31-year-old Ann Arbor man, was federally prosecuted and was sentenced in July to 180 months in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release.
Prosecutors accused Lukasavitz of spending several years trading child porn images with others via “Google Hello,” a peer-to-peer program no longer available on the Internet. At the time of his arrest, Lukasavitz had more than 1,000 child pornography images and movies on his computer, officials say.
The federal government handles many child pornography cases because they often cross state lines, like Lukasavitz’ case.
According to numbers from the U.S. Department of Justice, child pornography made up 69 percent of sex exploitation offenses submitted to U.S. attorneys for charges.
The latest numbers available from the U.S. Department of Justice show 2,039 suspects were prosecuted for federal sex offenses in 2006.
Others local residents also were caught with child porn during those years, Parviz said, including many pedophiles on probation.
From mid-2005 through the end of 2007, Parviz worked on 57 computer cases - approximately 20 related to child pornography. He analyzed 97 computers, servers or large hard drives, and more than 465 pieces of portable media.
From January 2008 to present, he’s worked on 23 cases, approximately six related to child pornography.
A reason for the change? Beginning in January 2008, Parviz who is assigned to Ypsilanti Township, wasn’t allowed to work countywide.
“Pedophiles rarely give up their habits. And just like any other criminals, they become encouraged, when they realize that there is no pro-active policing,” Parviz said.
The Sheriff’s Department isn’t the only local department without officers proactively working on child pornography cases.
Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan Department of Public Safety don’t have any officers assigned to child pornography cases, but both agencies say they have officers trained to work such cases.
A big deal
The lack of cases doesn’t mean there aren’t people looking at child pornography, asking local children for naked pictures or getting pictures e-mailed to them from across the country, investigators say.
“I have no doubt it’s happening right now,” Parviz said. “Just because you don’t hear about sex, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. All we can do is stop what we know about.”
And child pornography isn’t a victimless crime, said Perry Francis, associate professor and coordinator of counseling services for the college of education - clinical suite at Eastern Michigan University.
“The damage to a child is huge. Even if you’re just looking at a 6-year-old standing there naked, not touching anything or having anyone touching him, that child is learning to be objectified,” Francis said. “There’s nothing voluntary about this.”
â€¢ Most convicted of possessing child pornography in Washtenaw County receive probation sentences
â€¢ Computers play key role in prosecuting child pornography cases
â€¢ Eastern Michigan University professor: Child porn voyeurs looking for someone to dominate
Photo by David Jesse: Washtenaw County Sheriff's Detective Kevin Parviz works at his computer.