Redesign of a Decision Support Tool to Support Child Protection Operations

Dr David Mount1, Prof Lorraine Mazerolle1, Dr Renee Zahnow1, Federal Agent Leisa James2

1University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia
2Australian Federal Police, Fortitude Valley, Australia


Online production and transmission of Child Abuse Material (CAM) is a complex and growing global problem. The sheer volume in CAM cyber tips received and requiring assessment puts enormous pressure on both law enforcement investigators and cyber-tip triage staff, the latter making potentially life and death decisions about which cyber tips are referred for case investigative prioritisation. These triage decisions occur under multiple pressures including limited timeframes, finite investigative resources, fragments of digital forensic evidence, increasing caseloads and the real-life impacts on the well-being of a child victim if a case is not progressed for investigative action.

This presentation details the outcomes of a collaborative research project undertaken in 2019-20 that focussed on the development of a new decision support tool for CAM triaging and investigative prioritisation for use by the AFP’s Child Protection Triage Unit. The Triage Referral Investigation Support Tool (TRIST), developed by the project team and now in operational use with the AFP, better enables CAM triage staff to rapidly and objectively assess the need to progress a cyber-tip for further investigation: a critical decision that potentially impacts the safety of a child victim and the operational capacity of child protection investigation teams.

This combined academic – police practitioner team approach is a demonstration of evidence-based policing in action. As a decision support tool, TRIST is a blend of practitioner (craft) and researcher (science) inputs and represents a step forward in the AFP’s ability to fight online child sexual exploitation.


A former Australian Army officer, David’s 30-year career in the Australian Intelligence Corps provided wide-ranging experience and specialist qualifications in the intelligence and security domains. He served at the strategic, operational and tactical levels of command providing advice and support to commanders and decision makers both in Australia and deployed on operational service in Somalia, East Timor and Afghanistan. The culmination of David’s military career came with his appointment as Commandant of Australia’s Defence Intelligence Training Centre in 2003. Following separation from the Regular Army in 2006, David has provided consultancy services to several major Defence projects and provided force preparation training for personnel deploying into high-threat operational environments.

David possesses a BA (Hons) degree from UNSW, a MJus (Strategic Intelligence) from QUT and a PhD from UQ in which he researched investigative interviewing skill acquisition, transfer and application in the Queensland Police Service. In 2019-20, David was the Coordinating Principal Investigator for a joint UQ / AFP project to develop a new decision support tool for triaging of Child Abuse Material cyber tips for further investigation. He is currently engaged as a Cyber Criminology lecturer teaching into UQ’s Master of Cyber Security course.