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West Virginia State Police Helps US Protect Children by Building Crime Database on AWS

2020

Child exploitation is one of today’s most alarming problems. Reports of online child sexual exploitation have increased from one million reports in 2014 to 18.4 million in 2018—a rate that has outpaced the ability of law enforcement officers to investigate and solve online crimes. Automated data sharing across task forces and state lines is critical to investigations because predators often live in different jurisdictions than their victims.

The West Virginia State Police recognized that technology could help law enforcement overcome data sharing and administrative challenges. With a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, the West Virginia State Police created the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Data System, known as IDS. IDS is a web application that provides tools and support to assist national law enforcement investigating suspected child predators. These tools include deconfliction services that help investigators find and collaborate with other investigators who may have a case against the same suspect; a Priority Offenders tool that aggregates lists of offenders from different systems; and an investigator search service for finding other investigators who specialize in internet crimes against children.

IDS facilitates the transfer of National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) CyberTips and online child crime evidence across all 50 states, 61 task forces, and three federal agencies. “This application enables faster collaboration and reduces administrative hurdles to help reduce the time it takes for investigators to react to new CyberTips,” says Sergeant James Kozik of the West Virginia State Police. Credentialed federal, state, and local law enforcement—as well as district attorneys, forensic analysts, and support staff who investigate internet crimes against children—all use the application.

The agency, which initially hosted in an on-premises data center, decided to migrate IDS to the cloud for better scalability, easier security management, and increased capacity for innovation. “We have 11,000 total users on the application, and that number is growing,” says Tim Ricks, database administrator for the West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit. “We wanted to be able to scale quickly to keep pace with user growth, and I wanted to spend less time on maintenance and technical support so that we could focus on creating new features for the application.”

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Our goal is to rescue children faster, and this application on AWS is helping us do that."

Sergeant James Kozik,
West Virginia State Police

Moving a Critical Application to AWS GovCloud (US)

To help address its challenges, the West Virginia State Police chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) and moved the IDS application to AWS GovCloud (US). “AWS is the most mature cloud technology provider, and we’ve been using AWS for our email services for a few years,” says Ricks. “We need to be secure and compliant, and AWS GovCloud (US) helps us achieve this, while also enabling us to meet any future compliance requirements. Overall, AWS provides the scalability and high availability we need for this application, which is critical because so many law enforcement agencies across the country use it every day.”

The department relies on Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) to automate data backup and recovery. To deploy and scale IDS, the department uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) for on-demand compute and AWS Elastic Beanstalk to upload code easily and automate load balancing. The department also uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to provide reliable, continuous access to CyberTips and online child crime evidence. “Reliable access is critical as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children distributes more CyberTips daily, adding up to thousands of tips every month,” says Ricks. In addition, the department uses AWS Identity and Access Management (AWS IAM) and AWS Certificate Manager for security, identity management, and compliance. “We need to protect the privacy of potential suspects and victims in the database, and AWS helps us do that,” Ricks says.

Rescuing Vulnerable Children Faster

By running the IDS application on AWS, the West Virginia State Police gives application users faster access to critical CyberTips so they can quickly and easily share information with investigators. “Previously, we had to download CyberTips from the past 24 hours, manually put them onto a CD, and send them out to investigators,” says Sergeant Kozik. “That whole process took a week. Now, users have a central dashboard with all CyberTip information compiled in one place. With a few clicks, they can receive case information, review it, and send it on to investigators in seconds.”

Because investigators can now respond to CyberTips faster than before, they can better protect children from online exploitation. “Our goal is to rescue children faster, and this application on AWS is helping us do that,” says Sergeant Kozik. “We have received feedback that sexual assaults have actually been prevented because of the speed at which investigators were able to react. Using the application, they are able to maximize the time spent on investigating crimes, expedite saving children, and bring predators to justice.”

Scaling to Meet the Demands of 11,000 Users

The West Virginia State Police can more easily scale IDS to accommodate users across the US. “We have two developers who work on IDS. Despite having a small team to handle all development, deployment, and support of the IDS application, AWS allows us to scale and meet the demands of our users,” says Ricks. “This helps us deliver a better product with fewer resources.”

In addition, the department’s small IT staff has saved 25 percent of its application management time. “I can now focus on doing value-added work, such as developing new features to improve the application,” Ricks says. “For example, I’m working on creating a new document repository for storing and sharing certain case information.”

Automating the Gathering of Performance Measures

The West Virginia State Police also automated performance-measure gathering in IDS. This formerly tedious process involved sending spreadsheets via email to federal agencies, such as the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. According to the State of Wisconsin Department of Justice, which uses the IDS application, it previously took as many as 20 hours each month to compile and complete performance measures and send them via email. A state spokesperson says, “IDS has fully automated the process, and it now takes less than 30 minutes a month. This allows our personnel to use their time more effectively to triage CyberTips and interact with the task force membership.”

Next, the West Virginia State Police plans to further develop the IDS application to accommodate users around the world. Ricks says, “We will bring on international partners so we can expand the application to try to prevent child exploitation on a global scale.”

To learn more, visit aws.amazon.com/govcloud-us.


About West Virginia State Police

The West Virginia State Police is a US law enforcement agency that provides police services to the 1.8 million residents of West Virginia. Created in 1919, it is the fourth-oldest state police agency in the country.

Benefits of AWS

  • Enables data sharing to help state investigators rescue vulnerable children faster
  • Scales on demand to accommodate 11,000 application users
  • Protects privacy of potential suspects and victims in the database
  • Helps investigators process case information in seconds instead of 1 week
  • Cuts application management time by 25%, so developers can spend more time creating features

AWS Services Used

AWS GovCloud (US)

Amazon's Regions designed to host sensitive data, regulated workloads, and address the most stringent U.S. government security and compliance requirements.

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Amazon S3

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is an object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance.

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Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS)

Set up, operate, and scale a relational database in the cloud with just a few clicks.

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AWS Certificate Manager

AWS Certificate Manager is a service that lets you easily provision, manage, and deploy public and private Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) certificates for use with AWS services and your internal connected resources.

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