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Snail-paced hunt for online predators - CISOCA hampered by resource-challenged Cybercrime Unit

Published:Friday | September 9, 2016 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Deputy Superintendent Webster Francis: “Speaking from my office (CISOCA) we are really having a challenge.
ACP Devon Watkis: "You never have enough staff to deal with anything. Sufficiency is determined by the demand at the time.”

Deputy Superintendent of Police with the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), Webster Francis, has cited a shortage in staff at the police Cybercrime Unit as partly responsible for some of the delays in cases where persons are charged with offences against children involving the use of the Internet.

“The Cybercrime Unit that is within the Jamaica Constabulary Force has the capacity in terms of equipment to investigate the matters,” noted Francis.

“The challenge is that the unit needs more human resources at this time to carry out its functions, and it is reflected based on the cases that are there and the return time for the ... reports to be in court. Because we make the request and it takes a while, and even the courts have challenges because there is not sufficient staff there,” added Francis.


He said the delay is negatively affecting the process of justice.

“Speaking from my office, we are really having a challenge. On average, we are asking the court for a month’s time, because we put in the request (with the Cybercrime Unit) and depending on the nature of the matter it takes two weeks, a month and sometimes much longer than that,” said Francis.

The police Cybercrime Unit falls under the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Branch headed by Assistant Commissioner of Police Devon Watkis, who has admitted to the delays in producing the reports.

According to Watkis, given the volume of work that comes to the unit from across the island, not only in sexual offences but in other crimes such as murders, robberies, and lottery scamming where Internet usage is involved, there are times when they have to prioritise.

“You never have enough staff to deal with anything. Sufficiency is determined by the demand at the time,” Watkis pointed out. “We have an increase in the demand for the expertise, because Internet crimes are becoming more prevalent.

“The truth is cybercrime is a developing area. It is an area that sees quite a few requests, and given the national focus to give your best assistance you also at some point have to prioritise the order in which you satisfy some things, including satisfying the requirements of the courts.

“So you can’t tie down any delay to any specific thing. At times that (short staff) could be a contributing factor, but not in all instances, as each matter has to be dealt with on its own merit and complexities,” argued Watkis.

He said in an effort to arrest the problem of delays a 100 priority listing system has been established and some persons put in touch with the respective courts to address the issues.

The branch also continues to work with global partners to improve effectiveness, with Watkis being part of a small team that was off the island receiving further training when The Sunday Gleaner spoke to him last Thursday.

“I am out of the country with four or five other members of a team; some concentrating on cybercrime, some focusing on human trafficking,” said Watkis. “And human smuggling oftentimes involves children and the use of the Internet to facilitate those crimes, and that is part of the focus.”


According to a 2015 global Child Internet Safety survey by Pew Research Centre, almost all Internetbased sexual offences against children are started in a chat room, as 82 per cent of predators use social networking websites to determine their victim’s likes and dislikes to make the encounter proceed more smoothly.

The Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) is also reporting that children are increasingly being featured in sexually perverse ways on social media, as there is increased pressure on them to share sensitive and private information about themselves and others, especially in video and picture format.

Between 2014 and 2015 the OCA received at least five reports per month of online solicitation, exposure, and/or the abuse of children.