Behind every piece of technology, is a digital trail. And for investigators like FBI Special Agent Miles Wiltrout, that trail, can lead right to a criminal.
“Each digital file that you have on your computer or on your cellphone can be identified by what we call a hash value,” Special Agent Miles Wiltrout says, “which is basically a digital fingerprint for that particular file.”
Agent Wiltrout is the coordinator for the Southern Oregon High Tech Crimes Task Force. Though it reorganized in 2014, and moved out of Central Point, the FBI and Homeland Security are continuing their work with Medford Police. The department has 1 full time and one part time detective working with the federal agencies on hundreds of cases.
“A lot of it’s child pornography that’s being shared, produced, transmitted,” Deputy Chief Brett Johnson of MPD says.
“Child sexual exploitation cases are the bulk of what we do,” Agent Wiltrout says, “but we also support homicide investigations, assault investigations, drug investigations.”
“They’re busy, constantly,” Deputy Chief Johnson adds.
In 2015 the task force completed nearly 150 cases, and examined more than 300 items. In 2016, detectives closed 125 cases, and examined 327 items. Of those cases, more than 50% involved child exploitation.
“These are crime scene photos of sexual assaults of children,” Wiltrout says, “and we’re not just talking teenagers, older kids, we’re talking everyone from teenagers, preteens, prepubescent’s, toddlers, and infants.”
When we asked if cases like that happen here in southern Oregon, Wiltrout sais, “this happens nationwide, including here in southern Oregon, yes.”
Investigators describe it as dark work, and say it isn’t going away. Over the years a majority of Agent Wiltrout’s cases were what they call peer-to-peer, or people trading the images online. Now, they’re seeing an increase in people participating in them.
“What we’re noticing now, at least what I’ve noticed, is an increase in hands-on offenders,” Wiltrout says, “so these might be people who are actually sexually abusing a child and filming it or taking pictures of it.”
The task force is at an advantage when it comes to investigating these crimes. The local and federal partnership allows for access to more resources than those of individual agencies. But they still provide support to other departments when they need it.
“Regardless of your membership on the task force we have always made it known that we are there to assist,” Wiltrout says.
That’s a welcome invitation for former members like Ashland Police. When their detective left the task force in 2014 due to staffing shortages, they purchased some of their own digital forensic analysis equipment. But for anything they can’t handle in-house, they know help is just a phone call away.
“We still have a great partnership with the Medford Police and the task force,” Ashland Police Chief, Tighe O’Meara says.
Soon, the task force will be moving into the new Medford police station, where a space has been dedicated for their work, with room for expansion. And while the players and location of the task force are different from what they were a few years ago, the mission, is still very much the same.
“When you have a video or an image of a child that’s being traded around the internet and around the world, every time that happens that child is being re-victimized,” Wiltrout says, “It’s our role to identify the people who are committing crimes using technology, prosecute them in the courts, and do our best to end that cycle of victimization.”
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Central Point Police Department were also members of the task force prior to the reorganization. They now have some in-house equipment and contract with an outside company for additional expertise. JCSO and Ashland PD hope to rejoin the task force as staffing allows.