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Investigating Disturbing Crimes

May 21, 2012, 10:00 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Investigating Disturbing Crimes
PIERRE, SD -

Details of crimes against children can be very disturbing. But the information we get is often tamed down.

What really happened is horrifying for victims and families. And law enforcement officers aren't exempt from the side effects of cases they investigate.

"This is a job where there is a lot of impact on the officers themselves," Captain Dave Panzer said.

Panzer is a captain with the Pierre Police Department. As an administrator in the department, he's concerned about victims and their families, even communities affected by crime. He has to keep an eye on officers too, who are continually faced with disturbing details connected with a case.

"The officers, they're also parents so it is very difficult. They're going and investigating these crimes and a lot of them relate to family," Panzer said.

While we may just hear some details about child pornography or other sexual crimes against kids, officers actually see those images and hear full details of the cases. They see the faces of not only the accused offenders, but victims too.

"It's not an easy job. Unfortunately, it's out there and they have to deal with it," Panzer said.

There's a task force to combat internet crimes against children made up of local, state and federal officials. They deal with some of the very same things.

"We take it very seriously because looking at these images can be disturbing, even for trained professional law enforcement. And so we keep an eye on that for the well being of our officers," South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said.

Jackley says the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is made up of a dozen officers and some undercover officers too.

They go through intense training to prepare for the type of investigating they'll do. That's a year long and costs about $80,000. The state invests in mental well-being training for the officers throughout the year as well.

With 730 investigations over that past two years resulting in 116 arrests, Jackley calls the investment worth it.

"I would say as a parent of young children, yes,” Jackley said. “Those officers are able to prevent, often times, crimes against young children; very horrific, sexual abuse type cases. And so I think that investment is a very strong investment."

Given the crimes are trying mentally, Jackley says officers will be rotated into other areas after a few years.

"I look back in 2006, as U.S. Attorney, I prosecuted the Boschee case, which is where the librarian came down from North Dakota and sexually abused a young 15-year-old in Sioux Falls. Three of the four officers that I had used as witnesses in that case have now been rotated out. And that's just been literally six years," Jackley said.

Back at the Pierre Police Department, officers receive special training to deal with crimes against children too. And Panzer says they'll also be rotated out when needed.

"This job is very trying. You deal with a lot of trauma, a lot of negative," Panzer said. "It falls back on the department to make sure that we're watching these people, watching the officers, watching the detectives, making sure that they're still in good shape and that they can handle this."

Jackley says the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is making strides. When it started, most of the investigations were reactive. Now about half of them are proactive with officers catching offenders before they harm kids. He's hopeful the percentage of proactive cases will continue to grow.

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