Watching the team of cops assembled in the big church parking lot in the cold morning sunshine, it occurred to me: No matter how much modern crime-fighters rely on high-tech gizmos, gadgets and software, police work still comes down to knocking on doors and confronting bad guys.

The 18 members of the Silicon Valley Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force at the church were strapping on bullet-resistant vests and black helmets and getting ready to serve a search warrant on a suspected child pornography case. They'd been led to San Jose's Alum Rock district by a tip that originated with Microsoft, where company investigators had discovered child porn being uploaded to its cloud service known as SkyDrive.

The task force, led by San Jose police Sgt. Greg Lombardo, receives an average of four such tips a day, which are funneled through the Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The red flags set off a chain reaction of digital detective work, starting with computer forensic examiner Mike Bui, who reviews the tip to determine whether it appears that a crime has been committed and to place a priority on the case.

"I love doing this stuff," says Bui, a San Jose police officer. He loves it, he says, because he is making a difference. There have been cases in which investigators have discovered child porn that leads them to a child who is being exploited -- sometimes a relative or someone in a child-porn trafficker's circle. And who knows when a guy looking at child porn is a guy who would move on to molesting children?


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When a tip turns out to be a promising lead, task force members obtain a search warrant and gather for a briefing the way the 18 did in the parking lot at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

Every member of the team has a role. Detective Nick Jourdenais, who was leading a search warrant team for the task force for the first time, ran down the suspect's specifics: A 22-year-old man. Microsoft detected a dozen photos believed to be child pornography on his SkyDrive account. He doesn't work and was expected to be home. It's a small apartment.

"We're going to fill up that apartment really fast," Jourdenais says.

Another officer picked up the biography: No known criminal history. No known gang affiliations. Another ran down the order in which officers will line up, single-file, to approach the apartment door. Yet another laid out the plan in case the suspect shot the first officer to reach the apartment door: The next two officers in line were to step over the wounded officer and subdue the shooter. The next two officers were to move the wounded officer to safety.

The suspect in the case hardly sounded dangerous, but the truth is, as the task force members started down the narrow hallway of the Alum Rock Avenue apartment building, they had no idea what they would find.

At the front of the long line of helmeted task force members, an officer pounded on the apartment door, shouting, "San Jose Police! Search warrant. Open the door. Abre la puerta!"

The door opened and in less than a minute, the 22-year-old man in a T-shirt, boxer shorts and bare feet was in handcuffs and up against the wall.

Officers took the suspect outside to a white Dodge Ram panel van and seated him in an interview area. In the back of the same van, which was equipped with electronic gear and five computer monitors, forensic specialists Michelle Hinch and Chris Hardin combed through files found on a laptop, a desktop and a spare hard drive in the apartment. They used tools such as EnCase forensic software and the suspect's own words to search for child pornography.

Within an hour of knocking on the suspect's door, Hinch and Harden found what they were looking for: about a dozen photos they say were child pornography. The 22-year-old was arrested. Unless and until he's charged, this newspaper won't name him. The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office is expected to review the case and decide on charges this week.

"It's a good day," Hinch says. "This is a good case."

Contact Mike Cassidy at mcassidy@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.