Oak Ridge computer helps Knoxville officers catch sex predators

Oak Ridge computer helps Knoxville officers catch child sex predators

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By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Knoxville police are teaming up with Oak Ridge National Lab researchers to put more computer power into the fight against child sexual predators.

A new mini-super computer will decrease an investigators work load, helping find those who prey on children faster than ever.

Nicknamed Zeus, the loud and powerful computer at the Knoxville headquarters of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has a big job.

The National Association to Protect Children donated the computer.

"This computer is a forensics monster that's going to change the game for law enforcement everywhere," said actor David Keith. 

The computer is being used to enhance a computer program named Artemis, which was developed by ORNL scientists.

"Oak Ridge developed a thumb drive that you can stick in a bad guy's computer that downloads the child pornography in 15 minutes," explained Keith. "That used to take weeks."

With the software, the computer can quickly scan and search out computer addresses of people trafficking child porn.

"Prior to our involvement officers had to manually look at every image on the computer," said Chris Boehnen, an ORNL scientist who helped develop the program. "When you could be talking about 100,000 images, half a million, a million images, it's a lot of time to scroll through those images and find the ones that you're interested in."

Boehnen demonstrated how the software works using non-pornographic photos of women in bathing suits. He explained how the computer scans the images, then ranks them in the order of likelihood of child pornography by using key indicators like faces and the amount of skin shown.

"That computer could handle three cases where we'd have to sit on one case at a time," said Mel Pierce, a Knoxville Police investigator and member of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, "and it'd take three to four hours to process it, 40 hours to go through every file."

Officer Pierce showed the monumental task he and other members of the task force are up against every day with a map of Tennessee covered in red dots. Each dot represented a computer that has accessed what appears to be child pornography images in just the last 30-days.

The entire state of TN was covered in red.

When Officer Pierce highlighted Knoxville, it looked like a fireworks display lit up with dozens of computer IP addresses.

"I think that one says it all. That's just in 30 days in and around Knoxville," said Pierce. "I think that should alarm every one."

Investigators estimate the new computer, combined with the software ORNL created, will save them a day and a half per case, allowing them to put more sexual predators behind bars more quickly.

ORNL has just secured additional funding from the National Institute of Justice to further the program and make Knoxville a model for the country.

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