Cyber Crime Fighters

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Last week I enjoyed an opportunity to interview Capt. Shelly Anderson of the Bossier City Marshal’s Office – for a purpose completely different than this column.

But during an election campaign season during which candidates for a wide variety of offices will soon be promising all sorts of ethical representation, improvements, taxpayer savings – and you know the rest – it was refreshing to visit with a dedicated public service professional whose only concern is doing her best for Bossier and the surrounding northwest Louisiana community every day.

Anderson is a 14-year veteran of the Marshal’s Office and in addition to other duties over the years, she supervises the unit responsible for working Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) – as well as in the forensic aspects of other alleged crimes involving computer or cell phone technology. Sgt. Robert Garner and Deputy Randall Thomas fill out the computer lab’s staff.

Anderson discussed the Marshal’s Office well-earned reputation in computer forensics from its start in 2006 to where it stands today. She noted that between 2006 and the beginning of 2008, the Marshal’s Office was involve in basically looking up people that were targeting children for sex. Although forensic needs could have been forwarded to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, Anderson said, “…but they provided service for the entire state and we were just dumping more work on them.”

Anderson recalls at that point, then City Marshal Johnny Wyatt elected to send four deputies, including Anderson, to forensics training for computers and cell phones.

That training and subsequent certifications in the cyber field allow the Marshal’s Office to offer forensic support to nine parishes in northwest Louisiana.

The road to making a difference in the cyber crime world has not been easy however.

Anderson relates: “When we went from being just a little agency, just helping here and there where we can … the death of Justin Bloxom – that hit us hard – not only as a task force hard, but technology savvy-wise hard, because when some of those things were brought in here, we didn’t have enough tools under our scope and that’s when we realized that in order to process cell phones, you had to have multiple tools. So we learned a very valuable lesson … But we were fortunate enough that Quantico stepped up …” to analyze what the Marshal’s Office could not.

Anderson credits another milestone toward an even more advanced cyber crimes unit in Bossier was the award to the Bossier City Marshal’s Office of a $292,000 federal grant in 2011. The grant focused on combating sexual exploitation of children.

“… Probably 90 percent of what we spent our money on was training for other agencies, and I think we did a really good job on that because we provided training to anyone in the (field of combating) sexual exploitation of children –- from investigators, to forensic analysts, to nurses, to CAC workers like the Gingerbread House,” Anderson said. “We opened it up to everyone.”

Anderson said Bossier City Marshal’s Office ICAC personnel actually went to the least amount of grant-funded training because Marshal Lynn Austin is quick to fund necessary training from his office’s budget.

A smaller amount of grant funding was dedicated to new equipment that allowed for laptops for field workers and ICAC members, along with the local training provided for interested agencies.

But even with the generous grant funding, Anderson said every effort was made to spend the money judiciously and save where possible.

“… One of the trainings that we partnered up with the Attorney General’s office, we probably saved $15,000, so we’ve been very fortunate in that area as well.”

Anderson said her office didn’t want to be the “go-to” forensics agency and that the share-the-wealth aspect of spreading the funding training and equipment for counterpart ICAC Taskforce members was meant to improve computer and cell phone forensic capability across the board.

Anderson’s office handles a variety of cases. “We do everything — child exploitation is our primary – and if you walked in with a drug case today, and tomorrow somebody walked in with a child victim, the drug case stops and we go for what we are set up to do.”

“We’ve done homicides, burglaries, human trafficking stuff, some prostitution – all to do with cell phones or computers. You would be surprised what you can nail down with technology – you pretty much have to go off the grid to commit a crime – not to have some type of geo or technology tag attached to you.”

And the picture gets bigger when considering all of the ICAC agencies involved in the work of various local and state agencies to protect children. Anderson said that Louisiana is one of the few states in which about every parish is an ICAC affiliate through the state Attorney General’s office. In addition to working with a number of these parishes, the Bossier Marshal’s Office personnel have worked with the FBI, Homeland Security, and on occasion, DEA.

“We’ve come a long way from 15 people sitting in a room not knowing what the little blue “E” button was in a Yahoo chat room,” Anderson said, “a long way.”

 

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at m_carlso@bellsouth.net