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Pennsylvania investigators get truck to aid in finding child predators

| Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, 11:00 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks during the debut of a forensic truck for the Child Predator Section's use during a news conference Downtown on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks during the debut of a forensic truck for the Child Predator Section's use during a news conference Downtown on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014.

Before the Office of Attorney General had a mobile investigations unit, it might have taken six months to process evidence of child pornography at a state lab.

A new forensic vehicle whittles that to a few hours, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said Tuesday during a visit to Pittsburgh.

“The unit is making an impact,” Kane said. “It's also sending a message to these sick people (that) we're out there watching.”

Kane, a first-term Democrat, showed off the truck emblazoned with the commonwealth's logo and equipped with technology that enables agents to sort through computer evidence on scene.

In 2013, the first year of the office's dedicated child predator unit, investigators made 114 arrests. This year, they've made 107. By comparison, the office made 19 such arrests before the unit started, Kane said.

“This truck is just one more tool we have,” she said.

Kane said the child predator section targets those who “prey on our sons and daughters” and people who possess “disgusting, graphic images of someone else's son and daughter just for their own sick pleasure.”

The section is funded at $4.1 million this year. The office bought two trucks for $150,000 apiece.

The section has four attorneys and 15 dedicated agents, Kane said.

The unit goes after “travelers,” or those who drive from county to county or across state lines to meet up with children.The technology allows agents to scrutinize a computer, tablet or smartphone, past any passwords, to find illegal material. The back half of the truck has an interview room to conduct interrogations.

Mary Carrasco, director at A Child's Place of Mercy at Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, said the ability to scan files on scene quickly is an improvement. She remembers having to ask to get a computer examined right away.

She has been involved in advocacy for 26 years and said it's important for law enforcement to stay a step ahead.

The proliferation of social media has increased predators' ability to reach kids.

“Predators are getting more sophisticated, in terms of how they attract victims,” Carrasco said.

The child predator section made at least four arrests since Aug. 19, including one on Monday in East Pittsburgh.

Kane went to the scene with law enforcement agents, who seized a laptop containing suspected child pornography. Investigators charged Jeremy Zorich, 36, of East Pittsburgh with possessing and distributing child pornography.

Police from East Pittsburgh and North Versailles departments assisted with the investigation.

Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. She can be reached at mdaniels@tribweb.com or 412-380-8511.

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