Lancaster County, the sixth-largest county in Pennsylvania, had the third-most sex-abuse prosecutions in the state over the past three years, according to recently released data.
Between 2013 and 2015, Lancaster County had 257 convictions of cases involving sex offenders - about 5.5 percent of all such convictions in the state, according to data compiled by AOPC, a state record-keeping database.
Philadelphia County had the most prosecutions (707 total, 15 percent), and Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, had second-most (447 total, 9.4 percent).
Lancaster officials say the high ranking isn’t because there are more sex offenders living her than in similarly-sized counties. They say it’s because law-enforcers and investigators are taking a more proactive approach and using different techniques to catch sex offenders and file charges.
“More cases are reported and pursued because our multi-disciplinary team and prosecutors are able to achieve results,” Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said Thursday. “One of my top priorities has been to make sure that we have an elite child abuse unit, and I have given them more resources than ever before.”
Stedman and Assistant District Attorney Karen Mansfield, who heads the DA’s sex-abuse unit, pointed to the collaboration of police, prosecutors, victim/witness advocates, and social services, including Children and Youth and the Lancaster County Children’s Alliance. The Alliance interviews and examines child victims in many cases prosecuted in Lancaster County courts.
“We have more cases because we are fortunate enough to have a well-trained and high-functioning multi-disciplinary team that follows a protocol that has been recognized as a model for the state,” Mansfield said.
Aside from the multi-disciplinary team, here are some changes over recent years in the way sex-abuse cases are investigated in Lancaster County:
- Stedman’s office includes a specialized unit of prosecutors and a county detective devoted to such crimes.
- Investigators at municipal police departments receive specialized training and meet regularly to discuss trends and developments.
- Also in Stedman’s office, there is a computer forensic unit, which works to combat internet crimes.
“Things have changed so much over the years, in terms of how we handle these cases,” Kent Switzer, Chief of Lancaster County Detectives, said this week.
The PA Courts InfoShare report, produced by AOPC, included other data regarding sex offenders and offenses in the state, including;
- 4,325 people were sentenced in Pa. for sex offenses that involved Megan’s Law registration, between 2013 and 2015.
- More than 97 percent of them were males.
- About half of the entire number were between ages 19 and 35.
- Nearly half (44 percent) of the entire number involved sex abuse of children.
- Sixty percent of all the convictions involved lifetime Megan’s Law registration.
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