EYEWITNESS LOCAL NEWSState Police Hoping For More Crimes Against Children Investigators
from Eyewitness News Online
Reported: Mar. 5, 2014 6:13 PM EST
Updated: Mar. 5, 2014 11:17 PM EST
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Leslie Rubin) -- Crimes against children are are some of the most heinous and disturbing crimes police investigate. Whether it's child pornography, internet crimes, physical or sexual abuse, they are cases that are growing at such an alarming rate that investigators say they are overwhelmed and severely understaffed.
The Crimes Against Children Unit consists of 18 uniformed members who handled 508 criminal investigations just last year.
Megan Shobe was one of those cases. Shobe, just 20 years old, is raising a 1-year-old baby girl named Sadie and trying to provide a life for her as different from her own childhood as possible. Shobe's childhood was one of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse that she is opening up about for the first time.
"The abuse started when I was like 12 and it didn't end until I was like 17," she said.
Her step-father, George Jones, is currently serving more than 100 years in prison. Shobe said she's no longer afraid to talk about the years of abuse she suffered at the hands of her step-father, knowing he will likely die behind bars.
She talks about how he would force her to have sex with him, take away her "privileges" as he called them, and would even chain the kitchen cabinets so she was not able to eat.
"He called it 'my job.,' " she said. "It was 'my job,' that's what he called it. 'Come do your job.' Basically, if I wanted to do something then I'd have to go and either have sex with him or do other things. That's how it was."
Shobe's story is not unique. Just in 2013, the unit conducted 1,375 interviews, 475 of them were children who were being sexually and/or physically abused.
"I never have a week where I don't have at least five cases I'm looking into," Sgt. Adam Scott said.
He helped secure a conviction against Jones. He's just one of 14 investigators in the 18 member unit trained to handle those types of cases.
"It's almost impossible to effectively cover the whole state and do this," he said.
Exploring any avenue to help them better protect children, state police were recently awarded a $30,000 grant to create a mapping system for registered sex offenders in the state.
The WV Technical Assistance Broad Brand Grant Program awarded the grant last month. The award was part of solicitation offered by the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survery that oversees the WV Broadband Mapping Program.
Right now, there are more than 4,000 sex offenders in the state. Type in your address on websites like FamilyWatchdog.com and you'll likely find one living very close to you. It's a new tool that will open a whole new set of doors when seconds matter.
"One of the first avenues of an investigation of an abducted child, is to investigate sex offenders in a regional area," 1st Sgt. Daniel Swiger, the deputy director for the Crimes Against Children Unit, said.
"Statistically and from past cases, often times we've found, children that have been abducted have been abducted by previously convicted sex offenders," he said.
The system will provide troopers with vastly more information than what's available on public websites.
Last year, troopers conducted a sex offender compliance check and made contact with more than 1,800 offenders, finding more than 500 violations. The only way that compliance check was possible was also through a grant.
"We do not have the manpower to adequately do compliance of those sex offenders," Swiger said.
The unit was created in 2006 and state police continue to ask for more funding to grow the unit. They would like to have 85 troopers assigned to the unit by 2018.
Troopers have been collaborating with members of the Women's Legislative Caucus in an effort to better staff the unit. Their goal it to ensure a new class of state troopers graduate so they can move experienced troopers to the Crimes Against Children Unit. Nineteen cadets will graduate Friday with 30 more slated to go through an accelerated program.
On Tuesday, legislation was introduced to have an additional 25 cadets this fall but that's no guarantee just yet.
It's estimated that training and equipping a class of 50 new troopers comes with a price tag of $5.7 million.
"Kind of robbing Peter and robbing Paul to put into general revenue, and it going to be tight," Del. Linda Phillips, who is a chairwoman on the committee, said.
"Obviously it's not going to happen overnight. It may not happen in the 2015 budget," she said.
Many believe this is an issue that goes beyond monetary value. How do you put a cost on a child's life or livelihood, something Shobe wonders daily.
"I've accomplished a lot of things and I've had a lot of people there for me and supported me, but it's gotten a lot better since I got out of that situation," she said.
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