Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry warned Tuesday that cuts being considered by the Legislature for his Department of Justice could negatively impact the office’s pursuit and coordination of law enforcement efforts to crack down on internet crimes against children.
“We’re going to try to minimize the impact that it has on these units and our personnel. Right now we don’t have exact answers,” Landry said at a news conference to announce Operation Broken Heart, the state’s internet crimes against children task force, so far in 2016, has arrested 57 alleged perpetrators for distribution and possession of sexual abuse images or videos of children. The task force is compromised of 174 law enforcement agencies partnering with the Attorney General’s Office.
“Due to recent budget cuts, our department may have to rely more on these partners. But despite what happens in the State Capitol, our office remains focused on the best interests of Louisiana,” Landry added. He was surrounded by 19 city police chiefs, parish sheriff’s deputies, Louisiana State Police troopers and other prosecutors and law enforcement officials.
The state justice department’s budget dropped form $66.3 million in this fiscal year to a proposed $65.8 million for the fiscal year beginning in 10 days. The latest proposal would restore some of that money, but the final numbers are still up in the air as the Legislature winds into the final two days of a special session.
Part of the issue, Landry said, is the inability to move money around to meet budgetary needs within his department.
Most of the money annually appropriated for programs and services within all government departments are reviewed, set and approved by the Legislature, then signed into law by the governor. Legislators earlier this year had rebuffed Landry’s efforts to change the law and allow him to allocate justice department funds to programs at his choosing.
The end result, Landry said Tuesday, was that when his agency’s budget is finalized, he may end up overloaded in one program and — unable to move funding around — have no choice but to penalize a worthy service.
Landry’s Cyber Crime Unit has an annual budget of about $312,000, his office says. Part of those funds comes from the federal government, which has been reducing its grants to states. “The federal government jump-started this project, but at some point in time, the state has the responsibility to backfill it,” Landry said.
The Attorney General’s Office has six full-time employees working on internet crime. The State Police has assigned 13 full-time investigators and law enforcement personnel from other state, local and federal agencies also pursue cases.
The attorney general’s money also is used to train law enforcement personnel and help buy equipment, in addition to investigating cases.
State Police Superintendent Col. Michael D. Edmonson said computer software is used to alert investigators to people searching the internet for terms related to child pornography. Investigators also follow conversations in chat rooms that focus on such activity. From those leads, law enforcement is able to start building cases against child predators, he said.
“When you think about the caseload and the amount of data we process, we just don’t have the computer power. We don’t have the manpower,” said Corey Bourgeois, Attorney General’s Office head of investigations on internet crimes against children.
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