The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is seeking an additional $3 million from the Oklahoma Legislature this session specifically to hire and equip 25 new staff positions to investigate and clear a backlog of tips about potential online child predators.
“We are overloaded with the cases that are coming in the door,” OSBI director Ricky Adams said at his governing commission’s Feb. 16 meeting. “We’re going to have to react quickly here to be able to do something about it in the way that we need to.”
The agency has seen a 500 percent increase of tips about potential child sexual predator situations in recent years, Adams said. Those tips come from Oklahoma residents and local law enforcement or from national digital service providers like Google, Facebook or phone companies.
“We are in an absolute crisis in this particular arena,” Adams told NonDoc after the OSBI Commission meeting. “It is overwhelming, the number of tips that come in. We categorize those tips: This is a child that we believe is being directly assaulted, this is one we believe that there are possibly hands on a child, this is one we believe people are exchanging photos. (…) They are kind of triaged down the list.”
OSBI currently works with 86 other law enforcement agencies on the Internet Crime Against Children task force. With so many requests for assistance being made by other agencies and so many online child predator tips coming in, Adams said it would take OSBI four years to address the backlog with current staffing levels even “without anything else coming in the door.”
“It takes an agent or an analyst to look at that photo and go, ‘Yeah, this is child porn.’ Or look at that photo and go, ‘OK, this is not tasteful, but this is not something of that nature,'” Adams said. “Most of these, when I say children, they are little children, and they’ve got some perv in a basement someplace that has, in many cases, committed a hands-on act of rape of a child and has filmed it for distribution on the dark web or on a service provider someplace so that other people like them can get gratification out of this.”
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‘Quality, experienced, capable individuals’
Sometimes, the suspected “perv” has a nicer office than a basement. In early 2021, OSBI investigated a tip from an internet service provider that led to the arrest of Tyler Wesley Davis, who was assistant chief of police for the town of Hydro in western Oklahoma.
“The tip that had come to us was a low-level tip, and it was one that potentially could have been triaged down to where we’d get to it when we can,” Adams said. “But we try to investigate them all.”
OSBI’s investigation led to Davis being charged with four counts of child pornography, three counts of child sexual abuse and one count of first-degree rape. Davis’ trial is pending. Court records indicate Davis had been working in law enforcement in Caddo County since at least 2006.
“When you look at these particular cases, these cases are difficult and are made difficult because the technology of the day,” Adams said. “It’s ever-changing. The internet platforms and the social media platforms that these things are served around on are ever-changing. They are always moving.”
Adams said he has already devoted as many existing OSBI resources to the topic of online child predators as possible. Now, he is looking at a “non-traditional” solution to address the backlog by working them simultaneously and in an assembly-line process. But that proposal will require the requested $3 million to hire 25 more agents and analysts and equip them with technology necessary to investigate all the tips.
“This problem has spun out of control,” Adams said. “I believe a lot of these people we have on the tips, they may be the same person on four tips. (…) They are pretty cookie-cutter cases, there are just so many of them.”
Adams emphasized that many people who deal with homelessness, substance abuse and other problematic societal issues were victims of mental, physical or sexual abuse as children and “never got the resources to help interdict that.”
“I need quality, experienced, capable individuals who I can bring in here to help us address this problem,” Adams said.
Senate Appropriations and Budget Chairman Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) said he is “interested in having that discussion” this year.
“We’re getting calls we can’t even follow up on. They are good leads. These kids are at risk,” Thompson said. “If we could look into it and make a difference in some of these kids’ lives, I’m all for it.”
Dozens of agencies have asked for similar — or higher — additional appropriations, however. And OSBI’s official request to Thompson and House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston) listed the $3 million to address the online child predator tip backlog second among the agency’s asks.
Put another way, legislative budget leaders are weighing numerous requests for any given $3 million available for new investment.
Still, Thompson said he considers increasing OSBI’s capacity to investigate online child predator tips as a bit of a higher priority during this year’s budget negotiations.
“I’ve really been trying to ask one question: How does this change lives? And this really does change lives,” Thompson said. “It’s got some of our most vulnerable at risk, so what can we do to stop that?”
Wallace said he also wants to look at addressing the OSBI online child predator tip backlog.
“We are very aware of the problem, and we want to do all that we can to protect our children,” Wallace said. “With the change in technologies, we need to start investing in technology to fight crime appropriately.”
Adams listed OSBI’s top budget request as being an additional $5.37 million to bring OSBI agent salaries more in line with other law enforcement in Oklahoma and surrounding states. He said OSBi special agents currently earn about $74,000.
“I cannot compete against the Edmond police department that is paying their detectives $113,000 a year,” he said, noting that a 30 percent pay increase would cost $5.37 million a year.
Concerns about pay and candidate recruitment exist at all state law enforcement agencies, and HB 4386 advanced Monday as a proposal to increase Oklahoma Highway Patrol salaries by 35 percent. OHP leaders hope that such a boost will improve their ability to attract quality candidates for open positions.
Speaking of new staff, OSBI Commission members were told during their February meeting that former Oklahoma Adjutant General Michael Thompson would be joining the agency March 1 as a deputy director, replacing Bryan Rizzi, who is retiring. Gov. Kevin Stitt relieved Thompson from his duties as adjutant general in November.