By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY -- More investigators are joining the fight against Internet predators thanks to federal stimulus dollars.
"We feel like we're going to protect a lot of Oklahoma children," said Steve Neuman, Inspector for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
OSBI received more than $600,000 to hire employees and buy new equipment. OSBI added an agent to its ICAC or Internet Crimes Against Children Unit and hired another agent for the Computer Crimes Unit. An ICAC analyst will also keep her job for an additional two years.
The new ICAC agent, Nick Chaffin, said his goal is to "help to get as many of the people who are committing crimes against children off the street as possible."
James Bogle, who joined the Computer Crimes Unit, said he hopes to reduce OSBI's computer backlog. Right now, there's a six month wait for computers to be processed.
"We have a pretty significant backlog of requests from outside agencies to work their cases. If this gets more people working cases, it's better for everyone," Bogle said.
OSBI will also use some of the stimulus dollars to buy a mobile forensic unit. It's a truck loaded with equipment so agents can process computers, cell phones or other electronics right at the scene of a crime.
"Often times, we get these people who are in denial that this is happening. When we can come in and show them that it is in fact happening, it just speeds up the investigation," Neuman said.
While the additional money will help beef up OSBI's efforts, it's still not enough. Three and a half years ago, Governor Brad Henry signed the Safe Net Act, allowing OSBI to start its ICAC unit with seven people. The legislature never fully funded it. Now, even with the stimulus, there are only five people. But, that number may go down, in a few years.
"You kind of worry that in three years, you might not have a job here," Bogle said.
The stimulus money will only provide jobs for three years. After that, the new employees will have to compete against other applicants for positions at OSBI or at other agencies. It all depends on what's available when the money runs out.
"I'm not too worried about it. In three years, I will have received a lot of great training and a lot of experience, learn from the best in the state, so I should be pretty employable whenever that time comes," Chaffin said.