Crime Prevention

Posted on April 9, 2010


I’ve given you lot a few quickie list-based posts recently, so now you can do your penance and read one of my long ranty ones. It’s even got a serious point to make, although there are still a few cheap laughs in there.

I think it’s fair to say these days that if LE computer forensics is your business, business is pretty good. Most of the units we speak to are very busy and many have frighteningly large backlogs. A lot of the jobs in the queue are ones involving indecent images of children (‘IIoC’ , what the laity refer to as ‘child porn’ – we tend not to because ‘porn’ implies some level of consensual legitimacy); in fact at the moment around 70% of cases awaiting examination in Monkeytown are of this nature. Of these, a great many are going to be run-of-the-mill jobs with some pervert gathering a few hundred images on P2P or some seedy chat room, and who admits the lot before the echo of the 6 o’clock knock has faded away.

Many of these people will, at some point, wheedle out the excuse that ‘it’s only pictures’. This justification, which always makes me want to bite the person’s face off, doesn’t remove the need for a full and extremely time-consuming examination of every item of digital media recovered from their house. For while many of these people are content – for the moment – to slither into their back room and watch other people’s children being raped while their own are sleeping soundly upstairs, there’s always a good chance that we’ll find that they’ve gone further, or that they’re in touch with people who are performing hands-on abuse. As I said, we’re busy.

We were very pleased to hear then that North Wales Police HTCU don’t appear to have much to do at the moment, and have started to proactively look for work. This is great and we wish them well in their endeavours, but we’d be kinda grateful if they’d keep us out of it. The problem with the sort of approach they’re taking is that it casts a very wide net, and ends up generating a lot of referrals to other forces. We’ve got a backlog, our Paedocatcher Unit have got a backlog, even our backlog’s got a backlog. We really don’t need the extra work, and there are a lot of other types of crime that we could play a part in tackling. In fact when we get referrals from other forces’ dragnet sweeps, we find ourselves talking up some kind of an arms race with the referring force – we could fire up some paedotraps with the radar pointing up at them, and see how they like it when we start referring jobs! Yes, it needs doing…but wouldn’t it be good to stop the people offending in the first place?

We soon realised that this arms race idea could get out of hand very quickly. Within a few months we’d be doing mass arrest days (called ‘Operation Paedogeddon’, in homage to the mighty Chris Morris) and dumping busloads of suspects in the valleys for North Wales to deal with. Bobbies always have to take things too far, so no doubt it would end with a doomsday exchange of nonces being catapulted back and forth between us and them by mighty trebuchets, the skies criss-crossed with intercontinental panicked middle aged men in their dressing gowns, tremulously asking if their employer was going to find out as they hurtled head-first into a field somewhere near Prestatyn. As is the nature of these things it would soon escalate to other forces, with disastrous consequences:
“Sir! AWACS report Avon & Somerset have launched three Facebook Groomers at us!”
“The fools! Intercept with an airburst Morbid-Curiosity-Newsgrouper and tell the submarine to prepare a Fat-Bastard-Surrounded-by-1000-Hard-Disks-and-Bottles-of-his-Own-Piss. We’ll shut down their HTCU for a year, if that’s how they want it!”

You get the idea.

Like the nuclear annihilation that threatened us in the past, I’m sure that no one wants this scenario to become reality. So maybe we should also be focusing on ways to reduce offending in this area. I think it’s true to say that there is an element of offenders who are genuinely contrite (sorry they did it, or sorry they were caught? Who can tell?), and a lot of the people who come through our doors have no previous convictions and regard themselves as decent, upstanding members of society. We need to start educating these people on why they shouldn’t be looking for it, out of ‘morbid curiosity’ or ‘research’ or ‘moments of madness’ or any of the other nonsense excuses that we hear over and over again. Here are some Monkey Ideas for Crime Reduction:

  • Publicise, publicise, publicise. When one of our customers has been convicted, don’t just leave it for the local newspaper’s court reporter to fumble a few misunderstood factoids into a poorly-written story: prepare a full press release with lots of detail, quotes from the officers and analysts involved, quotes from the victims that CEOP are in touch with about the reality of ‘just a few pictures’. The press love anything with a hint of sexual perversion, so we should use their tawdriness in our favour.
  • Get the force media unit to make a short film about the subject – get interviews with the people mentioned in the above point, but also get as many offenders as possible on board. Not just the slobbering, wonky-spectacled obvious perverts, but the jowelly middle-aged middle manager from the suburbs. Get them to talk about how they’ve lost their job, their family, their friends, and they’re having to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register for 10 years. If possible, film it from the time the warrant gets executed right up to the first time they sign the Register – they’d probably get time off their sentence for cooperating, so it’s worth broaching with them. Release the video under a friendly Creative Commons licence and pass it to local TV and newspapers, and plaster it on Youtube. Yes, it’ll get mashed up and remixed for the purposes of lolz, but look at that as a force multiplier rather than a corruption. It’s not as if no one’s ever taken the piss out of the police before.
  • Tweet and Facebook more – doing a warrant that morning? “just locked up 40 year old IT manager in Monkeyburbia on suspicion of IIoC after Limewire referral from Canadian police“. If local people are encouraged to befriend and follow their local police force and start seeing this a couple of times a week, the message will soon get out that looking at IIoC carries a risk. Tie this in to the detailed stuff above and the bigger picture will form – not least of which is that it’s far from being a victimless crime.

So, that’s my take on matters. North Wales, for all my piss-taking, are absolutely right to be targeting offenders in the way they are. Yes, it’s generating work but it’s work that needs to be done. We also need to be looking at the bigger picture though, and educating the public about the reality and the risks. Here endeth today’s lesson.