Sen. Jonathan Nichols today outlined details of a proposed statewide child abuse task force at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
The OSBI’s Child Abuse Response Team (OSBI CART) was proposed this week as part of the Senate Republicans plan for funding public safety.
“The OSBI CART would be made up of OSBI agents who are highly trained in investigating child abuse cases, forensic interviewing of children and case development for the prosecution,” said Nichols, R-Norman, a former prosecutor.
The task force would be outfitted by recruiting the top experts in the state on child abuse. Nichols based much of his proposal on his experience as an assistant district attorney when he prosecuted child abuse cases before being elected to the state Senate.
Nichols believes that such a task force would not only greatly assist in the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases but would also provide an invaluable educational resource for law enforcement agencies who want to increase their own training in this field.
"There are many communities in Oklahoma that simply don't have the resources to maintain a highly trained child abuse task force," said Senator Nichols. "Having such a task force at the OSBI would allow a smaller police force to pick up a phone, dial the OSBI, and within the amount of time it takes them to drive to the community, have a highly trained task force working the case."
According to Nichols, the task force would include a forensic interviewer who is extensively experienced and trained in the art of interviewing children of child abuse.
“The initial interview of a child is critical to any successful prosecution of these types of cases,” said Nichols. “Wrongly phrased questions by an untrained investigator can literally jeopardize what would have otherwise been a locked tight case against a predator.”
The task force would also have a case manager who is highly trained and experienced in child abuse investigations. This investigator would manage the progression of the case and act as liaison with other governmental agencies that assist in these cases, such as Department of Human Services, Mental Health, Child Abuse Centers (CAC), as well as the District Attorney’s Office.
“Child abuse cases can become very complex, very quickly, involving several agencies and multiple investigators,” said Nichols. “A case manager would coordinate the efforts of all persons involved and make sure that the investigation stays focused and well preserved for the prosecution.”
Senator Nichols also identified the need for an expert at interviewing suspects in child abuse cases. He stressed the need to have a person who has honed their skills in interviewing child predators through extensive experience and training.
“One of the most important parts of a child abuse investigation is the interview of the perpetrator,” said Nichols. “This role would be filled by a person that was not only well trained and educated in child abuse cases, but also extensively experienced with hundreds of cases under his belt.”
The fourth member of the task force would be a person who could provide expert testimony on child abuse during trial, including different syndromes associated with child abuse as well has methods of operation employed by predators.
“This investigator who would act as an expert witness for the prosecution would also be responsible for coordinating continuing education and seminars,” said Nichols. “This task force when not working cases would be providing educational and training resources for our law enforcement agencies around the state.”
Nichols said that CART would not duplicate the efforts of multi-disciplinary child abuse teams in local areas, but would afford these teams an immense resource of expertise, training and continuing education in the latest tactics in investigating child abuse cases.
Nichols said that he was already working with senate staff to file necessary legislation.
“Public safety is a top priority of Senate Republicans and creating the OSBI CART will be a top priority of ours during the next legislative session,” said Senator Nichols.
Nichols said Rep. Fred Morgan, R-OKC, has agreed to co-author the legislation.