Richmond County investigator looks into internet crimes

Investigator Mark W. Dobbins has spent the past three years investigating online crimes against children.

Since he was a little boy, Mark Dobbins has wished for one superpower: the ability to read minds.

“You get about 20-30 percent truths from criminals,” the Richmond County sheriff’s investigator said. “It’s self-preservation. We get partial truths that sometimes lead to the real truths.”

For the past three years, Dobbins has investigated online crimes against children. The 42-year-old spends his time checking computers and Web sites for child pornography and inappropriate communication with children. Although it means long hours looking at horrific images and interacting with people who have done unspeakable acts, Dobbins is satisfied with his job. He said it allows him to defend children who have been violated without their knowledge.

Dobbins said he looks at child pornography as a crime that is committed every time an image is viewed.

“They can’t defend themselves,” he said. “So I step in and do it for them.”

A little more than a decade ago, Dobbins was working at “the happiest place on Earth.” As a manager for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., he had a nagging feeling he wanted to be in law enforcement. When the opportunity to move to Augusta came in 2003, he quickly applied at the sheriff’s office.

Always aiming to be an investigator, he moved up the ranks and into violent crimes. Nearly three years ago, he was asked to open his own cold case division. He enjoyed scouring old cases, but when the summer hit, and crimes against children increased, he was asked to move into that department to help with the workload. He took his time deciding whether the new challenge would be worth it. With children of his own, he was not sure he would be able to handle it emotionally.

On the other hand, he thought about how good he would be as an investigator of child abuse. His self-proclaimed obsessive compulsiveness made him thorough and detail-oriented.

After being in crimes against children for more than a year, he moved into his current specialty.

“Our digital era is wonderful for law enforcement. We will eventually be digitally based,” he said. “However, the same goes for criminals. The sheer amount of digital images now feeds into the problem.”

Working on a task force that includes members from the FBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office has been helpful for Dobbins. He said the task force meets at least once a week to talk about current cases and pool resources.

“A lot of our cases can be traveler cases,” he said. “So we need all jurisdictions on board.”

One challenge Dobbins faces involves getting parents to report inappropriate behavior, rather than just remove their child. Most of his suspects have multiple victims, he said.

Sometimes he will have a parent contact him with an e-mail from an adult to their child. He often discovers that the person had contact with multiple children before one came forward.

“If something does not seem right to you, let us know,” he said. “You could be saving a lot more children.”

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