Child advocacy group urges Nixon to fund cyber crimes units

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JEFFERSON CITY - A Jefferson City-based child advocacy group is urging Gov. Jay Nixon to release money for the state's Internet crimes task forces.

According to Missouri KidsFirst, this is the first year the governor has withheld the $1.5 million funding that used to support cyber crime units across Missouri.   

The units are in charge of tracking individuals who attempt to commit sex crimes involving children. Their efforts have previously led to indictments of numerous individuals on charges of child exploitation or possession of child pornography.

Since July 1, cyber crime task forces have not received any funding from the state and continued to operate with money coming from their individual counties. A spokesperson for Missouri KidsFirst said many task forces are now looking to lay off staff and shut down because of the reduced funding.

"Essentially Missouri KidsFirst got contacted by some of these cyber crime task forces and explained what was going on," Emily van Schenkhof said.

Van Schenkhof, who is also serving as a lobbyist for child protection and public policy, said ,"Many of our child advocacy centers also contacted us with concerns about what was going to be happening to some of these cases if the state funding doesn't come through."

Missouri's budget director Linda Luebbering, said in an email the revised revenue estimate for the current fiscal year (FY2015), agreed to by the governor and legislative budget leaders, is tighter than previously projected.

"Therefore, additional actions may be needed to keep the current budget in balance," she said. "These actions could include additional expenditure restrictions,further reductions in spending. In contrast, if revenue improves significantly, some spending may be released in the future."

Van Schenkhof said the need for these task forces is growing with the advent of technology and the easy ability to take images, record videos and spread those on the web.

"Child sexual abuse is a kind of crime that has been ignored for too long," she said. "It is something that affects, we believe, around 10 percent of children, who are sexually abused at some point in their childhood. The work of our cyber forces is one of the most important in our state and we are just pleading for the governor to release those funds because it makes a giant difference for the safety of our children."

Around 13 multi-jurisdictional departments across Missouri used to receive state funding in previous years.