Several Frederick County law enforcement agencies announced the formation of a “cyber crimes task force” Monday that they hope will lead to better coordination and communication in investigations involving internet crimes against children.
The Frederick County Cyber Task Force was announced as the number of tips and cases regarding such crimes continues to increase in the county and the rest of the state, said county State’s Attorney Charlie Smith. Smith stood alongside Frederick Police Chief Ed Hargis, county Sheriff Chuck Jenkins and Lt. Matthew Kail from the Maryland State Police at a press conference in the county courthouse Monday to talk about their dedication to keeping local children safe and to sign the agreement.
“The increase in demand for this type of investigation and prosecution just over the last 20 years [has] quadrupled, to say the least, in the amount of cases that we’re seeing,” Smith said. “We saw both the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and the Frederick Police Department as well as MSP bringing more and more cases to our office for prosecution, and more and more heinous cases, for that matter.”
Smith did not provide an exact number to quantify the increase, but Kail, who commands the state police’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, estimated that the state received 2,600 tips about cyber crimes involving child victims last year — about 60 of which were tied to Frederick County. Based on the number of tips received so far this year, Kail said the total tips received this year will likely exceed the previous year.
Since 2017, Frederick Police Department detectives have averaged about 25 cases a year involving sexual predators using the internet to target children, while Jenkins noted that the sheriff’s office has had to increase the size of its force dedicated to such cases from one to three full-time detective positions over the last several years.
Both Smith and Jenkins emphasized in Monday’s press conference that the three agencies have always worked closely with one another, but Lt. Kirk Henneberry, the commander of Frederick police’s Criminal Investigation Division, said that the new understanding will nonetheless improve the relationship.
“So in the past, Frederick police, we’ve teamed up with the FBI’s [Internet Crimes Against Children] Task Force for our cases and the sheriff’s office has worked with Homeland Security Investigations,” Henneberry said, explaining that the new understanding connects the county and city agencies directly. “... I think Charlie [Smith] realized we needed to come together a little bit more, which is what you’re seeing here.”
The task force will also allow the sheriff’s office and city police to more easily determine which agency should handle specific cases rather than spending valuable time determining which cases fall into which agency’s jurisdiction, Henneberry said.
Both the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations, as well as Maryland State Police, will continue assisting the county agencies, and the memorandum of understanding signed Monday merely formalized the relationship between the three local agencies.
In addition to formalizing relationships and strengthening communication, Hargis said he was hopeful the memorandum would lead to other benefits for Frederick police and sheriff’s deputies, including grants or other supplemental funding.
“Hopefully, as a task force model, we can seek out additional funding for training, additional equipment and possibly some overtime funding to increase our enforcement efforts in this area over and above where we are right now,” the chief said.
While Smith said he plans to get tougher on prosecutions of people who target children for sexual crimes, Jenkins said that, by working closer with prosecutors from the beginning of each case, more county cases may be identified as candidates for federal prosecution. Federal penalties are typically stricter and involve longer sentences, Jenkins said.
“So that keeps predators off the streets for longer periods of time,” Jenkins said.
The memorandum of understanding specifies that it does not prohibit the investigation of crimes against children that do not involve the internet or technology, only that those such crimes were its focus. The partnership also includes a pledge to work together to better educate the community about how sexual predators use the internet to identify and contact potential victims and steps residents can use to prevent such crimes.