An annual state grant that pays for two detective positions on the Boone County Cyber Crimes Task Force will not face the same uncertainty it did last year. The grant is not facing the same predicament as in 2014 and early 2015, when Gov. Jay Nixon temporarily withheld $1.44 million, among other state money, in the Department of Public Safety’s budget allotted to assist cybercrimes task forces statewide. With the grants being awarded in the same timeframe as in past years, including $141,031.58 for Boone County’s task force, Sheriff Dwayne Carey won’t have to pull any budgetary maneuvers to keep it staffed.
Late in 2014, while waiting for the cash that didn’t come until April this year, Carey used two open spots on the department’s corrections staff to pay for the two investigator positions. Staffing for deputies on the road and in the Boone County Jail constantly is in flux, but with the grant awarded and reimbursement for both spots guaranteed by the state, Carey doesn’t have to worry about making adjustments to keep the cyber unit full.
Without the grant this time around, Carey said, “I would have to find money from general revenue or Prop L to fund those two positions and keep it up and going.” Voters approved Proposition L, a dedicated sales tax for county law enforcement, in 2002.
The money will pay for salary, benefits and training and expenses for sheriff’s detectives Cody Bounds and Andy Evans, two of three full-time investigators from the department who serve on the task force, through May 31.
An FBI agent and University of Missouri police officer also work with the task force part-time with their costs paid for by their agencies.
The grant, accepted in mid-September, also will pay for some equipment.
Sheriff’s Detective Tracy Perkins, who has been on the task force since 2007, said last year’s uncertainty about state money backlogged the unit’s budget. Though the cash is secured, she said, more will be needed in the future to keep up with annual cost-of-living salary increases and other equipment costs.
A decrease of the Department of Public Safety’s proposed grant budget for the current fiscal year, which began July 1 — from $1.8 million to $1.5 million — meant less cash for some departments than they were asking for. The sheriff’s department had requested about $162,000 in grant money, Perkins said. The extra $20,000 would have helped buy a forensic laptop, something Perkins said the task force needs.
“We have laptops, but they’re not up to speed to run forensically mobile,” she said.
Task force investigations primarily focus on crimes committed against children online, but the group also investigates other types of Internet misdeeds. Bounds, the unit’s forensic analyst, also examines data from computers, phones and other electronic media for outside agencies upon request. Its geographic area of focus, aside from Boone County, includes several Mid-Missouri counties, including Audrain, Callaway, Cole and Howard.
Data on the task force’s activity was submitted with the grant application. In 2014, the unit conducted 80 investigations, down from 96 in 2013 and 121 in 2012. Arrests the task force made also declined in 2014 to 12 from 30 in 2013 and 16 in 2012. Perkins said time spent investigating cases can vary greatly.
“Our cases can last a few days or they can last four, five six months and it’s because of the dynamics that’s going on in the case,” she said.   By Alan Burdziak, Columbia Daily Tribune