DA Sullivan demonstrates new Text-a-tip program
Northwestern District Attorney’s Office rolls out Text-a-tip program
Designed to target child sexual predators and help solve crimes in the Hampshire and Franklin counties and the town of Athol, Text-a-tip is one initiative of the new Northwestern District Attorney's Child Sexual Predator Project, funded by the Community Orienting Policing Services (COPS) office of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The program allows cell phone users to provide anonymous information concerning a wide range of predatory behaviors, including child sexual abuse, possession or distribution of child pornography, and child enticement by simply typing in the numbers 274637 (or “CRIMES” on some cellphones) and texting the code word KIDSAFE.
Citizens of Hampshire and Franklin counties and the Town of Athol can also report other types of crime using text-a-tip, as well. To report other crimes, cell phone users can text the keyword PROTECT to 274637 (“CRIMES” on some cell phones).
“Text-a-tip is a new and vital tool to help law enforcement agencies in all our 47 Northwestern communities to investigate and solve crime,” Sullivan said, adding, “The collaboration with all our law enforcement partners has been tremendous.”
Area law enforcement officials met with the project director Assistant District Attorney Christine Tetreault on March 16 to learn more about the program and begin implementing it in their communities.
"Any mechanism that you can use to make the public feel free to contact us is a useful tool," said Greenfield Police Department Detective Lt. Joseph Burge. "The potential for reaching out to a new generation whose primary means of communication is texting is great.”
TipSoft®, the company that powers the text-a-tip system, is a product of CrimeReports.com, which creates tools for law enforcement agencies to prevent, reduce, and solve crimes. The Northwestern District Attorney’s Office selected the TipSoft® program based on CrimeReport.com’s track record of working with more than 1,800 law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
The service allows the user to remain anonymous by encrypting the text message, routing the text through a secure server, and assigning the user a unique alias. The tip and the alias are forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement agency. If further information is needed, the agency can contact the texter using the alias.
Neither the law enforcement agency nor the TipSoft® administrator ever knows the identity of the person texting.
Sullivan emphasizes that citizens should only use the text-a-tip system for non-emergency situations. Residents should always use 911 or their local emergency number for urgent situations.
Prosecutors and law enforcement officials also encourage citizens to use the service to notify law enforcement if a known sex offender is living or working in a community without registering or violating conditions of release to the community, such as staying away from children.
Northwestern District Attorney's Child Sexual Predator Project
The Child Sexual Predator Project targets technology-based predatory crimes, such as child pornography and enticement of minors via the Internet. The CSPP, directed by Assistant District Attorney Christine Tetreault, utilizes technology to fight back against such crimes and to track sexual predators in the community. In addition to text-a-tip, technological initiatives include:
- creation of a computer forensic lab within the Northwestern District, to expedite prosecutions of child pornography and related crimes;
- installation of technology which will enable law enforcement to retrieve data from cell phones;
- use of software which permits investigators to perform on-scene previews of suspect computers and electronic media;
- creation of a database which will enable law enforcement to track probation and parole conditions of offenders in their communities.
Tracking and Prosecuting Sex Offenders
The goal of the Child Sexual Predator Project is to ensure that every Level 2 and Level 3 sex offender is registered or accounted for. The COPS grant allocates funds for police overtime to allow state and local police to conduct random audits of the Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders in the Northwestern District, to ensure compliance with reporting requirements. The current sex offender registry law requires such offenders to register in person at their local police station and to provide some written verification of their address and/or employment. It does not, however, require random verification of the offender’s address, and many towns lack the resources to conduct such audits. The Task Force works to fill this gap in the system.
Partner communities utilize overtime funds to audit offenders within their borders. State police conduct the audits for communities which are not grant partners. If an offender is found to be out of compliance, the District Attorney’s Office seeks a complaint and warrant for failure to register as a sex offender. State police assigned to the District Attorney’s Office and the Violent Fugitive Apprehension Squad then pursue the offender. The U.S. Marshall’s Service is available to assist with offenders who flee to other jurisdictions.
In addition to auditing registered sex offenders, the grant allows for more aggressive prosecution of those sex offenders who fail to register. The COPS grant has allowed for the hiring of a full-time prosecutor dedicated to the task of prosecuting not only cybercrimes against children, but also the crime of failure to register as a sex offender.
Assistant District Attorney Christine Tetreault served as a prosecutor at the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office from 1994 to 2011. She has extensive trial experience, having tried over 100 major felony cases of all types, including sexual assaults involving children and disabled adults. She has also argued before the Parole Board concerning sex offenders and others with life sentences, as well as handled civil commitment (so-called sexually dangerous person) proceedings for sex offenders anticipating release from incarceration.
All failure to register cases are referred to ADA Tetreault for review and determination of the appropriate venue for prosecution. A second offense is a felony punishable by up to five years in state prison. In addition to prosecuting the failure to register offenses herself, she is creating training for all prosecutors in the office, which will enhance the uniformity of the manner in which this crime is treated throughout the counties. It is anticipated that this uniform approach will cause offenders to ensure that they are properly registered to avoid jail or prison sentences, thus allowing the public to be more accurately informed of the offenders in their areas.
The COPS grant has also provided funding for community outreach initiatives, including the formation of the Child Sexual Predator Task Force. The Task Force is comprised of members of the District Attorney’s Office, the Massachusetts State Police, seven local police departments, probation, parole, sheriffs’ departments, the United States Attorney’s Office, the United States Marshall’s Service, and the Department of Homeland Security.
Tetreault and Jana McClure, Director of Community Outreach for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, are developing outreach programs to address the problems of cyber-stalking, enticement of young people via the Internet, and “sexting.” Programs are geared toward youth in the pre-teen to mid-teen range, their parents, and other concerned adults, such as guidance counselors, youth ministers, after-school program workers, and coaches. These programs will build on relationships McClure has established with the schools and community groups, as well as expanding into new areas. Tetreault and McClure recently spoke to approximately 30 parents and teachers at Parents’ Night at Amherst Middle School. The information was very well received, with several parents requesting that the program be presented to students at the middle school level.
Task Force members are receiving intensive training, which will enable them to more effectively investigate and prosecute cybercrimes against children. Trainings which have been, or will be, completed in the 2012 calendar year include:
- National District Attorney’s Association Unsafe Havens II Advanced Trial Advocacy, an intensive one-week program sponsored by the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse
- National Internet Crimes Against Children Conference, a four-day program
- 2012 National CyberCrimes Conference, a three day workshop
- 24th Annual Crimes Against Children Conference, a four day program sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
- Basic Data Recovery and Acquisition, sponsored by the National White Collar Crime Center
- Intermediate Data Recovery and Acquisition, sponsored by the National White Collar Crime Center
The NWDA is also offering training to law enforcement and related fields. Recently, the office hosted two sessions of a seminar on investigating, preparing, and executing search warrants for computers and other electronic media. Presenters were: Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bucci, who serves as Chief Trial Counsel, MSP Lt. Michael Barrett, a detective with many years of experience investigating crimes involving electronic media, and Dana Babbin, who has been retained as a consultant in the area of cyber-crime prosecution by the District Attorney’s Office.
The seminar was so popular, according to Martha Murphy-Kane, Director of Operations, that registration was full within two days of the announcement. As a result, a second session was scheduled, which also quickly filled.
Child Sexual Predator Project biographies
Christine Tetreault Assistant District Attorney Christine Tetreault serves as the Director of the Child Sexual Predator Project. She is responsible for overseeing the installation of the Northwestern District Attorney's computer forensic lab, coordinating the Child Sexual Predator Task Force, coordinating training for law enforcement and prosecutors in the area of cyber-crime, and prosecuting cases against sexual predators. A.D.A. Tetreault comes to the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office having served as a prosecutor at the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office from 1994 to 2011. She has extensive trial experience, having tried over 100 major felony cases of all types, including sexual assaults involving children and disabled adults. She has also argued before the Parole Board concerning sex offenders and others with life sentences, as well as handled civil commitment (so-called sexually dangerous person) proceedings for sex offenders anticipating release from incarceration. A lifelong resident of Springfield, she graduated from Elms College with degrees in Modern Languages and Secondary Education. She earned her law degree at the University of Connecticut.
Dana Babbin Special Assistant District Attorney Dana Babbin will assist the Child Sexual Predator Project with her expertise in the area of cybercrime. She was a prosecutor for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for 10 years, having served in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office, and the Office of the Attorney General. While at the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, she developed the first protocol for that office’s digital evidence lab. She has also trained prosecutors and law enforcement at the local, state, and national level in the area of cybercrime. She will assist the Child Sexual Predator Project by developing protocol for the new computer forensic lab and providing training to law enforcement and prosecutors.
Sgt. Tom Bakey serves as the investigative supervisor for the Child Sexual Predator Project, overseeing the maintenance and deployment of investigative tools and personnel acquired through the Project. Sgt. Bakey has been with the Massachusetts State Police since 1993 and was assigned to the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office as a detective in July of 2007. Sgt. Bakey graduated from Allegheny College with degrees in English and Political Science. He earned his law degree at the University of Minnesota.