In an effort to devote more of its resources to investigating child pornography and financial crimes, Ashland Police Department has sent an officer to work part-time at the Southern Oregon High-Tech Crimes Task Force.

In an effort to devote more of its resources to investigating child pornography and financial crimes, Ashland Police Department has sent an officer to work part-time at the Southern Oregon High-Tech Crimes Task Force.

Officer Mike Vanderlip officially starts work today at the task force, located in Central Point, but he has been stationed there periodically since early last month, undergoing training on investigating electronic crimes, said Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness.

"This is our chance to be much more proactive — not only in Ashland, but in all of Southern Oregon — in identifying and helping abused children," he said. "That's the main reason we're sending our scarce resources in that direction."

Vanderlip will spend 30 hours a week at the task force and 20 hours in Ashland, working as a detective, Holderness said.

The city will pay him for 40 hours per week and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will pay for the additional 10 hours through its National Cyber Crime Task Force Program. The City Council approved the transition last year, during the city's budgeting process, Holderness said.

The move is not costing the city any additional money, but the city will lose about half of Vanderlip's work time, he said.

However, Holderness expects the shift to save the department time and relieve the workload of detectives slightly, because Vanderlip and other members of the task force will investigate all of Ashland's child pornography and electronic financial crimes, he said.

"I think this will make all of our operations go lot smoother," Holderness said.

The Ashland Police Department typically investigates between eight and 10 such crimes a year, but each case typically involves combing through thousands of electronic files, he said.

"It's not a large number of cases, but they're complicated cases," he said.

Holderness hopes having Vanderlip at the task force will enable the department to avoid the long investigative delays seen in some cases, such as the James Auchincloss case.

"In the Auchincloss case, everyone kept waiting and waiting for forensics to get done," Holderness said. "That case went on for a long time — it took an awful lot of time. Now, we would get priority. That's the kind of case (the task force) would take over."

In summer 2008, Ashland police began investigating Auchincloss, the half brother of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, in connection with child porn. That October, police searched Auchincloss' Ashland home and found graphic images of young boys, according to search warrant affidavits.

Because of a backlog of computer crime cases, the task force took more than eight months to analyze the 48 pieces of electronic equipment seized.

Auchincloss was convicted in August on child pornography charges and sentenced to 30 days in jail for two felony counts of first-degree encouraging child sexual abuse.

Having an Ashland officer at the task force will also allow all Ashland crimes involving electronic data to be investigated faster, Holderness said.

"Our investigations now get to go to the front of line," he said. "It's real tough if we're waiting for six to eight months to get something checked, as we have in the past."

The task force is currently helping Ashland police investigate a string of alleged thefts in the Parks Department, Holderness said.

"The task force does have evidence that we've asked them to investigate on at least one of these cases, the cash embezzlement case," he said.

A Parks Department receptionist was arrested Tuesday on multiple counts of theft, identity theft, computer crime and falsifying business records. Becky Bianco, who is accused of stealing more than $43,000 from the city, says she is a victim of identity theft and plans to fight the charges.

When they're not working on active investigations, Vanderlip and other task force members will go undercover to try to find people trading child pornography in Southern Oregon, Holderness said.

"We expect to see cases involving child porn go up," he said. "In one out of every four cases, we're able to identify a child victim, so that's significant."

The City Council approved the transition last year, during the city's budgeting process, Holderness said.

An officer from the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety also began work at the task force this week, said Lt. Josh Moulin, task force commander and a member of the Central Point Police Department. In addition to Moulin, the task force has another officer from the Central Point Police Department, as well as one from the Medford Police Department, the FBI and the Jackson County District Attorney's Office.

"It's great to have extra help," Moulin said. "Our workload increases substantially every single year, so we certainly need the help."

Moulin expects having two additional officers at the task force will help shrink the backlog of cases.

"Our backlog is currently about six months for forensics, for cases that aren't high priority," he said. "But we've seen an increase in productivity already."

The average backlog in forensics labs nationwide is 12 to 18 months, he said.

The FBI is also giving Vanderlip a special vehicle, a computer and money to attend training courses. He will be cross-sworn as a federal agent, so he can pursue cases that may take him out of state, Holderness said.

It will be valuable for the department to have an officer trained in investigating electronic crimes, because a significant number of all police cases require some kind of electronic analysis, including many burglaries, Holderness said.

"Every time someone steals a Playstation, it's being logged onto the Internet and we can trace those things," he said. "Also, for an awful lot of crimes, people keep evidence of the crime on their computer."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.