ATLANTA - The Georgia Bureau of Investigation unit tasked with investigating online child exploitation needs more manpower to be able to handle more cases and make more arrests.
"Last year, in 2020, Georgia received over 11,600 cyber tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The year before that we received about 7,100 and the year before that we received about 5,200," said Debbie Garner, the special agent in charge of the child exploitation and computer crimes unit with the GBI.
The GBI also works to train members of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which is made up of 260 law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies.
Right now, she said the unit has to make difficult decisions to determine which cases take priority.
"We are at a point where we literally can't do more work without more resources," Garner said.
She said tips come from internet service providers and apps like Facebook and TikTok, which are all required to report inappropriate content.
Garner said the ability of these companies to find content is what's contributing to the increase in tips. In addition, she said it's easier for predators to access child pornography.
"There are very smart people writing very complex algorithms and software programs to help find this content on their platforms. It used to be that you had to sit at a desktop, a stationary place to look for child porn, but now people can do it in their car, they can do it at work, they can do it on their phones. It's just easier to do now."
She says so far this year, the task force has arrested 150 people. Last year, the task force and the GBI combined, arrested close to 500 people.
Garner said, however, that number has the potential to be higher.
"We are basically working the cases where we feel kids are in danger, the worst of the worst offenders. Some of them, admittedly, will go unworked."
This unit handles cases involving child pornography, online enticement of children, and child sex trafficking.
The agents are undoubtedly exposed to horrifying images, but Garner said it's these unworked cases that take a mental and emotional toll.
"The worst thing is not the content. it's the cases that they can't get to. It's the cases where there may be kids who are waiting for them to help them and we can't get to them."
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