by ALEX ROHR
Sgt. Steve Anders recalls slowly scouring 1,800 hours of VHS tapes. He would press play, then fast forward. Then stop. Then play, fast forward, and stop all over again, trying to scrape up every second of illegal video.
The method of storing child pornography has developed from pictures, to video, and to digital media, making it easier to manage and disperse, said Anders, the lead investigator of the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
But developing technology also has enabled officers to more efficiently and effectively catch the offenders who make up the online child pornography market, and those soliciting images or personal contact.
The SOVA-ICAC headquarters in Forest serves as an investigative hub by facilitating contact among federal, state and local agencies, investigating predators online and scrutinizing evidence in its forensic lab.
Because the task force works with 118 local agencies and other ICAC headquarters, it receives funding from multiple sources, including the state and its member agencies. But every investigator at the facility is a sworn Bedford County Sheriff's Office deputy.
"When these first formed back in the late 1990s, Bedford was one of the original ones," said Bedford County Commonwealth's Attorney Randy Krantz. "The goal was to put ... a seamless web of protection on the internet."
While the net has been knit across the web with 61 ICAC headquarters, offenders take advantage of continuing advancements in technology to break through the seams.
"When criminals got horses, law enforcement had to get horses. When they started robbing trains, we had to start positioning ourselves on trains and airplanes. When it started happening in the digital world, we had to position ourselves there as well," Krantz said.
Anders said the task force's primary responsibility is catching those who solicit minors or who they believe to be minors — actually undercover police officers — online. Sometimes investigators receive tips and then pose as children in virtual chat rooms. Other times, officers are first contacted by offenders. Deputies also investigate child pornography possession and distribution.
"The porn industry, legal and illegal, drives technology," Anders said. ... "As new technologies come out, the predators start finding ways to exploit it for their purposes."
He said child porn images became more common with Polaroid cameras because pictures didn't need to be developed at a photo lab.
The Internet caused another spike.
"It allows a sense of anonymity where they can at least experiment," he said.