Criminal Justice Update
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Criminal Justice Update

Q&A: Crimes Against Children Initiative director draws on experience, strong team

Attorney General Mike DeWine launched the Crimes Against Children Initiative in 2011, assembling investigators, prosecutors, victim advocates, and law enforcement trainers to better protect Ohio’s children. The team focuses on identifying, arresting, and convicting people who prey on children through sexual and other forms of abuse, child pornography, solicitation of minors, and similar crimes.

On the need for the Crimes Against Children Initiative
Children aren’t in a position to protect themselves. They rely on people around them — their families, friends, teachers, people in positions of trust and authority — to guide them. Our goal is to protect them from those who are taking advantage of that position of trust and those who manipulate. What we want to do is help create an environment where kids can continue to be kids. Whether that’s an online environment where they are playing their computer games, going to the park, going to school, playing on a sports team, we want to do our part to try to make sure it’s a safe place for kids.  
On the initiative’s focus
A major focus is Internet crimes — people who prey on children online, solicit sex, or are exchanging child pornography; these crimes also include sending illegal images by text, such as occurred in the Steubenville case. As a direct result of our team’s forensic analysis of cell phones in that case, our prosecutors were able to successfully prosecute a crime that otherwise may have gone undetected. We also assist on cases ranging from rape and other sexual assaults to physical abuses such as shaken baby/abusive head trauma as well as human trafficking and missing children cases.
On the passion and expertise of the team
Everybody is here because they want to be here, and they are excited about the officewide and statewide component. We are collaborating in a way that, to our knowledge, has never been done before on this topic within the Attorney General’s Office, such as monthly meetings and getting groups together to share resources. The seven BCI agents dedicated solely to this have 120 years of law enforcement experience and more than 50 years’ experience working specifically with child victim cases. Everybody brings a different expertise to the unit. I feel privileged to be working with these professionals and proud to be part of the team Attorney General DeWine has assembled. Everyone gives 110 percent every day. I think we’ve got a really good, holistic approach to fighting crimes against children.
On the work of the Rapid Response Team
We can respond to a scene and provide resources to help with the investigations, victim advocacy, and prosecutions. So, for instance, if there’s an abducted child case or a sexual assault of a child, we can send a team out right away. We know local communities typically have these resources, so it’s not that we want to come in and take over. It’s just an extra layer of protection and assistance if they need it. A lot of communities have had budget cuts that have affected their law enforcement agencies, and they just need an extra set of eyes. So, for instance, if there’s an abducted child case or a sexual assault of a child, we can send a team out right away to assist.
On the initiative’s laptop loan program
We can provide law enforcement agencies with a laptop, wireless Internet air card, and training to help them conduct child pornography or predator investigations. Without a completely clean computer and a completely clean Internet line, you can’t really run these investigations. Two agencies have taken advantage of it, and we have the capacity to assist three more at this time. The only requirement is that they take one of our training courses or a comparable training course.
On online child exploitation
With child pornography, it’s not just pictures. These are real kids who are victimized again every time a picture is traded or passed around. It’s important that criminal sentences reflect the severity of the crime. Ohio is No. 5 in the country in terms of these images being possessed or traded. Some of these videos and images have been traded for 20-plus years. We’ve got to consider how that victim is impacted. Some of them don’t ever want to use a computer.
On local authorities’ feedback on the initiative
Those requesting our help on a regular basis are really grateful to have us there because in many instances there’s a lack of resources, a lack of manpower, and some cases might not have been worked for a long time. In a couple of cases, we were able to help the local agency identify suspects pretty quickly and get them locked up.
On statewide collaborations
We partner with the current Internet Crimes Against Children teams — in Franklin, Cuyahoga, and Hamilton counties — and we have a working group going that includes those partners as well as U.S. Attorney’s Office and local prosecutors. We meet quarterly to talk about current trends and topics. What are they seeing? What kind of legal battles are they having in different parts of the state? It’s been very successful.
On progress since the initiative was launched in 2011
In 2012, we opened 117 cases, executed 14 search warrants, and were involved with 10 arrests. This year, we have so far opened 49 cases across 28 counties, executed 12 search warrants, and been involved with six arrests. Since the initiative was announced, more than a dozen previously unknown child victims have now been identified and put in a better situation or removed from the hands of their offender.
The Nicole Dehner File
Past positions: Chief policy advisor for the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services; former assistant Franklin County prosecutor, specializing in cases involving violent crimes and sexual assaults against women and children; in-house counsel for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana University and law degree from Ohio State University
Family: She and her husband, John, a commercial real estate appraiser, are the parents of an 8-month-old daughter
For fun: Nicole likes to cook and try new recipes
To contact her: E-mail or call 740-845-2187.