Parents and Law Enforcement Fight Plan to Cut Staffing for Florida Cyber Crime Unit

April 4, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

Florida Gov. Rick Scott made the news this year when he announced plans to cut funding to the cyber crime unit of the state Attorney General’s office. While this doesn’t harm my private-sector work as a cyber crime attorney, it would reduce the number of staff members in that office from 34 to 15, and investigators from 15 to 6, reducing the number of cases the office was able to bring. Last week, supporters of the office and its work rallied in Tallahassee in protest of the proposed budget cuts, including two parents of children who were abducted and murdered by child molesters. Now, WJXT in Jacksonville reported April 4, the former head of the cyber crime unit has gone before the state Senate’s budget committee, which has indicated that it will work to avoid cuts to the law enforcement part of the workforce.

The Tallahassee rally, held March 29, included Diena Thompson and Mark Lunsford. Thompson is the mother of Somer Thompson, who was abducted, raped and killed at the age of nine by a neighbor in Orange Park. That man, Jared Harrell, came under suspicion after he was charged with 29 unrelated counts of child pornography possession. Lunsford is the father of Jessica Lunsford, who was also nine when she was abducted from her bedroom, raped and killed by a neighbor in 2005. Police later found child pornography on his computer. Both parents spoke about the importance of cyber crime investigators in preventing similar crimes and called on lawmakers to fight for the unit’s funding. WJXT said the Senate budget committee did not guarantee anything, and that the cyber crime unit was still likely to be transferred to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — but said cuts to investigation staff were less likely.

As a child pornography criminal defense lawyer, I’m surprised the governor proposed these cuts. The public feels strongly about child sexual predators, which is why we have some very strong sex offender restrictions in Florida even though those restrictions are of questionable value to public safety. It’s not clear whether the cyber crime unit, which hunts down people sharing child pornography through the Internet, could stop senseless crimes like those against the Thompson and Lunsford families. After all, possessing child pornography is not the same offense as creating it, or molesting a child without cameras. As a child porn criminal defense attorney, I know that distinction is very important under the law, even if it’s not always important to the public. But even if it doesn’t increase the risk of crimes against children, cutting funding to the cyber crime unit is certainly a political risk.

Seltzer Law, P.A. represents people from Florida and around the United States who are accused of crimes involving technology and the Internet. Lead attorney David Seltzer is a former cyber crime prosecutor from the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s office, which means we understand how prosecutors build cases as well as the technology. To learn more about us or set up a free, confidential case evaluation, send us a message online or call toll-free anytime at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).