And with the app, called "Operation Predator" installed on an Apple or Android device, Homeland Security is never more than a swipe and a tap away. The app allows citizens to quickly report suspicious activity or information about a suspect by phone or email.
"Sexual crimes against children are often vastly underreported to law enforcement so we're constantly asking for the public's help," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge William Walker in HSI's
Recognizing that time is of the essence in solving crimes of child abduction or exploitation and that many people have a smartphone with them at all times, HSI set out to develop the app.
"That immediate connectivity provides an opportunity to educate the public and get their cooperation in solving these kinds of crimes," Walker said.
The agency's role in investigating child exploitation has roots in its predecessor U.S. Custom Service's pursuit of pornography shipped into
The app's news stream helps to educate parents and others about the "red flag" warning signs of an abuser. And the alerts help the agency disseminate information and images to a wide audience, members of which may hold the key to solving a child sexual abuse case.
In the first alert posted on the app, which became available to download Thursday from Apple's iTunes
Among the images in the alert, which were cropped out of photographs depicting the sexual abuse of a child, is one showing the inside of a home with family photos on the wall.
"Someone in the public is going to recognize that as a house they've been in or someone they know," Walker said.
Such an image released to local media by state police and HSI led to the March arrest of a
A stack of discarded Polaroid photos depicting the sexual abuse of two girls led authorities to
The woman was then able to confirm that one of the girls in the photos was her daughter and identify the other girl for investigators.
U.S. District Judge
Raeder also faces child rape and related charges in
While HSI will never disclose images of a victim, Walker said, the photos contain clues about the crime scene. Something in a photo or video as simple as a candy wrapper or a picture on the wall can lead investigators to a suspect, he said.
"Any tip or clue we can get can help," he said.
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