()

Attorney General Beau Biden asked the Joint Finance Committee to increase funding for the Child Predator Task Force, a unit that investigates online child exploitation. Biden told the committee that such funding was critical to help combat crimes against children.

Biden made the comments Monday in Dover when he appeared before the JFC to request additional financial allocation for items that were left unfunded by Gov. Jack Markell’s fiscal year 2015 budget. He was joined before the committee by state prosecutor Kathleen Jennings and Chief Deputy Attorney General Ian McConnell.

The majority of Biden’s comments focused on seeking additional financial support for the Child Predator Task Force. Biden formed the unit in 2007 to investigate all cases of child pornography and when an individual tries to meet a child through online contact. Since its formation, the unit has grown to include 35 local police forces, conducted 800 investigations, executed more than 300 search warrants and secured more than 150 convictions.

“These are vitally important cases,” Jennings said. “Child pornography is as bad as it gets. It’s the worst kind of victimization of children.”

Jennings noted that the task force’s case load has steadily increased over the last few years. There were 148 investigations in 2011, , 161 investigations in 2012 and 173 investigations in 2013, according to Jennings. She said that arrests and convictions have also grown concurrent with the investigations.

The state prosecutor noted that the task force puts a tremendous effort into each investigation, including examining computers, conducting search warrants, and writing “intense and involved” reports.

“With the increasing number of investigations and increasing number of prosecutions, we need more help,” Jennings told the JFC members.

Jennings requested financing for an additional investigator, a senior forensic investigator and a prosecutor. The costs for the prosecutor and additional investigator are expected to total $172,400, according to data provided by the Attorney General’s Office. Currently, the unit has one attorney and four investigators, according to Abigail Layton, who leads the Child Predator Task Force.

Layton also spoke before the JFC emphasizing the need for funding the unit. She said that investigations are changing and becoming increasingly complex. According to Layton, the majority of their cases involved pedophiles sharing child pornography files, but the unit’s investigations have evolved into shutting down pedophiles who try to talk to children online or arrange meetings with their victims.

“Each case now is much, much bigger and much more difficult because we now have contact victims all throughout the country,” Layton said. “In the last few years we have seen a dramatic increase in the depth and complication of these cases.”

Layton said that in 50 percent of the unit’s cases in 2013, the individual had contact with a child, but cautioned that those cases did not always include physical contact. She added that online communication with a child in an Internet chat room counts as contact.

Melanie George Smith, D-Bear, praised her staff and Biden for their hard work in catching child predators.

“Any parent can feel the pain of what it would be like if that was your child,” she said.

Jeff Mordock can be contacted at 215-557-2485 or jmordock@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffMordockTLI.