Tools to Catch Online Predators Focus of USF Workshop This Week

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 11, 2008) – Forensic imaging techniques are helping to fight online sexual predation and this week, the University of South Florida Department of Anthropology and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) are bringing law enforcement personnel from around the nation to explore the latest advances in this technology and other investigative strategies for catching predators.

During the weeklong workshop, participants, including USF undergraduate and graduate students, learn a variety of forensic imaging techniques such as facial reconstructions, superimpositions, age progression/regression, and photo manipulation/enhancement techniques. These skills are critical to solving missing persons cases and aid families and investigators trying to identify missing persons and unknown, unidentified decedents.

This event marks the one-year anniversary of the partnership between USF's anthropology department and the NCMEC. During that year, the department, led by Assistant Professor Erin Kimmerle, has hosted three training programs for law enforcement that have brought more than 50 participants from five different countries to USF.

"With the use of the Internet to target children a growing problem, providing such training offers a real world solution to a significant problem," said Kimmerle. "This is not only an opportunity to seek justice for victims, but also to prevent more children from becoming victims. The NCMEC is doing outstanding work and we are very proud of this partnership and honored to be part of it."

Kimmerle, along with Glenn Miller, the supervisor for Forensic Imaging from the NCMEC, hosts the bi-annual training programs. Miller, a former Fairfax, Va., police detective has spent the past 16 years working in imaging for the NCMEC and specializes in age progression techniques for long-term missing children.

Participants in the weeklong workshop represent some of the nation's leading forensic and investigative agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the NCIS and Central Intelligence Agency, as well as sheriff and police departments from around the country. International participation is also growing and has included representatives from Korea, Mexico, Canada, Romania and the Netherlands.

USF students, such as recent B.A. anthropology graduate Samantha Seasons, have also completed honors thesis research using these skills. Seasons went on to intern at the NCMEC this summer and has helped create faces for some of Tampa’s unsolved cases. She returns to USF this fall as a new M.A. student in applied anthropology.

According to Anthropology Chair Elizabeth Bird, "This partnership, along with Dr. Kimmerle's other law enforcement workshops on such topics as blood spatter analysis and crime scene processing, are central to the department's commitment to applied, community-based work that makes a real difference.

"Ultimately, a successful fight against sexual exploitation of children will take community efforts, with parents, educators, law enforcement and the courts working together. This week's program is one step toward building that type of community network in our area," Bird said.

The University of South Florida is among the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It is one of Florida's top three research universities. USF was awarded more than $300 million in research contracts and grants last year. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 45,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

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