BOZEMAN, Mont. - Busting suspected child predators takes the cooperation of many agencies from the FBI down to local police and sheriff's departments. It can often be a sophisticated game of cat and mouse to catch suspects, because as technology evolves, so do predators' tactics.
We met with Dana McNeil on Wednesday afternoon. He is a detective with the Bozeman Police Department and is also a computer forensics expert. He investigates cases where suspected predators may be looking to take advantage of children online.
He has been doing this for five years and has seen firsthand how predators adopt social media to lure children. On average McNeil says he could be juggling anywhere from three to six cases at once.
"It is getting easier and easier to send videos to large content files and I think people are probably more bold than they were 6, 10, 15 years ago," said McNeil.
In 2014 there are endless ways for teenagers to communicate with each other. Popular sites include Facebook, meetme.com and kik. One example police give is the app called Snapchat. Even though it says the photo or video will only last for 10 seconds, we are told there are ways around that.
"There are technologies out there that are very simple that the person you are sending this image to using Snapchat could preserve that image," said McNeil.
McNeil says the cases they work generally break down into two categories. One is proactive, where they try to find the predators before they have potentially committed a crime.
"We are looking at what people are talking about on a particular bulletin board system or a chat site, something like that," said McNeil.
The other category is reactive, when the receivey evidence -- maybe from a parent -- that a crime may have already been committed.
"Sometimes it's to the point where the kid has already sent images of themselves, revealing images, and they are very concerned about those getting out," said McNeil.
He says these problems can be compounded when a potential predator gets ahold of those images.
"They then have control over them and they can say 'you need to send me more images of you doing this, this, and this, or else I am going to send these images to your grandma,'" said McNeil.
Because of the rapid pace of social media, McNeil explains it is important they learn the new technology and become familiar with the ways young people are communicating online.
"Trying to stay ahead of what offenders know about what police do in order to investigate these types of crimes," said McNeil.