Detectives Lee Wheeler (R) and Gary Westerfield (L) discuss rising online crime rates in Poulsbo.

Poulsbo sees online crime, like child porn, on the increase

COVID restrictions leaving people more isolated a reason

One of the most notable things about Poulsbo is that it has a relatively low crime rate compared with other cities of similar size in the United States, however due to the COVID-19 pandemic, police are seeing a disturbing increase, specifically online.

Prior to the pandemic, most of the crime was related to traffic incidents, such as Driving Under the Influence, or petty theft from businesses.

However, since the state-mandated shutdowns, Poulsbo police have noticed a steady rise in fraudualent scams, vehicle prowls and most disturbing, online sex crimes.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in property crimes, not so much residential burglaries with folks being home. But we’re seeing a lot more internet crimes, against minors in particular,” detective Lee Wheeler said.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children cases for the collection and distribution of child pornography have increased by over 30 percent globally since March.

“I think the most telling thing that we’ve seen is an increase in online sex crimes. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that we’ve seen that go up about 25 percent in the past two years,” Poulsbo Police Chief Ron Harding said. “It lends itself to what folks do in isolation. It’s a nonpublic crime, those sorts of crimes are going to be committed when you are secluded in your house. So the increase of the amount of time that those predators are spending at home I think is what’s lending to the growth of that crime.”

In 2018, there were only two cases of online sex crimes that were traced to Poulsbo; in 2019 that jumped to seven cases; and 10 in 2020. Harding noted that there have already been several more cases reported in in January.

“It speaks to the national trend that’s also being reported by other agencies and organizations that say the result of having people stuck in their houses is causing this increase in online predatory crimes,” Harding said.

The national center works with technology companies to track the distribution of child pornography online; it will generate a cyber tip that will be passed on to law enforcement agencies in the region where the photos were reportedly uploaded using the device’s IP address.

Recently a 25-year-old Poulsbo man was arrested on charges of the alleged distribution of child porn. The incident report stated that the man had uploaded images to his Google Drive, which he was eventually locked out of. The man told his co-worker about being locked out and even reportedly confessed that it was because he had uploaded child porn.

To verify the information, Poulsbo police needed to get a warrant to search the man’s home and computer. Typically that would require a trip to the Kitsap County Courthouse in Port Orchard, but due to the mandated closure of the courts, the officers worked with the judge to get the warrant via email.

“The procedures are the same as before, just slowed down a bit because of the pandemic,” Wheeler said.

One of the best ways to prevent internet crimes is for parents to talk to their kids about not sharing photos with strangers online, police said.

Wheeler encouraged parents and teachers to report photos and the solicitation of inappropriate photos of minors to police if they come across them.

“Parents should be involved in what their kids are doing on social media, especially the younger ones; they need more monitoring obviously. They’re the ones getting coerced into sending these photos by these strangers,” Wheeler said.

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