AUGUSTA — There are more than 560 pieces of evidence of sex crimes against children in a room at the State Police Computer Crimes Unit because there aren’t enough staff members to investigate them, state Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, said Friday.

So Diamond is sponsoring a bill to hire more people to get the job done.

“The last I checked, there were 560 pieces of evidence of child molestation and sexual assault sitting in a closet,” he said. “To me, that’s unconscionable. It’s evidence that could rescue kids.”

Diamond is sponsoring LD 1731, which got a public hearing before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Friday. It calls for the state to spend $300,000 to hire three or four more investigators for the unit.

Diamond, a former co-chairman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, also wants the unit to get its own line item in the budget, so lawmakers can’t ignore it. He offered to help the criminal justice committee find money in the budget to pay for the additional staffing.

Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, the committee’s Senate chairman, said he has toured the unit and knows about its important work.

“These images are burned into your mind,” he said. “The horror that these kids go through is a level most of us cannot comprehend.”

In his written testimony, Diamond said the unit has rescued 26 children in the last three years who were being used as “sex stars” in the child porn industry.

“These are kids who are filmed and photographed while being raped or made to perform sexual acts with other children, adults and even animals,” he said.

Elizabeth Ward Saxl of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault testified in favor of the bill, saying that many people who use child pornography go on to sexually abuse children.

Col. Robert Williams, chief of the state police, testified neither for nor against the bill. He said the state police have already requested additional funding for the computer crimes unit, in the supplemental state budget that has not yet been released.

He expressed concern about giving the unit its own budget line, saying the department must be able to continue to manage its own resources.

The committee is scheduled to vote on the bill March 1.

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]