HANCOCK COUNTY — Criminals could help foot the bill for Internet-related crime investigations under a bill authored by a local lawmaker.
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, has proposed legislation that would establish the Internet Crimes Investigation Fund, which would charging people convicted of any misdemeanor or felony in Indiana an additional $10 in court fees.
The $1 million generated annually would go to Indiana State Police to help the department investigate more Internet-based crimes, including fraud, terrorism and child pornography cases.
The state police could also use the money to award grants to local law enforcement agencies working to investigate Internet crimes against children.
The bill has already passed the Indiana Senate. To become law, it must pass the Indiana House and be signed by Gov. Mike Pence. This week, it was assigned to a House committee on courts and criminal code, where it will be debated before lawmakers decide whether it advances to the full House for a vote.
Local law enforcement officials say they support the bill; they like that criminals will be paying to help police fight criminal activity and that more money would be generated for investigating a growing problem.
If approved, the bill would generate about $1 million a year through 2020, when the law would phase out and could be renewed by lawmakers if they find the program to be successful. The money generated by the fund would be used by police to cover the cost of training, equipment and other costs related to Internet crime investigations.
Investigating crimes carried out over the Internet can be difficult, Crider said; technology is constantly changing, and the investigation can be exhausting for police agencies. A prolific child pornography case investigated last year in Shelby County — a portion of Crider’s district — inspired him to author the legislation.
The Indiana State Police has a cyber crime unit and Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force that are charged with investigating such crimes and offer support to law enforcement across the state, including in Hancock County. Those teams have traditionally been funded by federal dollars, but more money is needed to address the number of complaints police receive, Crider said.
Millions of tips about such crimes funnel through police departments across the country every year, and many times, agencies have to triage, dealing with the worst cases first, while others are left to languish, Crider said.
That means some victims aren’t getting justice.
“We’ve got young people that are being abused, and their case might never be brought to trial,” Crider said. “It’s not getting better; it’s only going to get worse.”
Hancock County sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Bridget Foy said investigating Internet crimes against children is a top priority for local law enforcement.
Having recently worked alongside State Police to investigate a complaint of child solicitation in New Palestine, Foy recognizes the importance of supporting teams that specialize in highly complicated crimes.
Though dollars generated by the fund won’t likely be funneled directly to local law enforcement agencies, bolstering a state agency’s efforts to fight Internet-related crimes will ultimately benefit local departments who work alongside State Police, said Greenfield Police Department Chief Jester.
Traditional police work is changing, as detectives are increasingly forced to turn their attention toward catching criminals who might never set foot in their communities.
“The Internet is used in a lot of crimes now,” Jester said. “As the Internet expands, it’s going to become a bigger problem.”