New York State officials Thursday launched a new online training program for police officers aimed at improving child abuse investigations as the number of child abuse-related deaths statewide has increased.

The hourlong video lecture, which is free but not mandatory for law enforcement officers, focuses on interviewing alleged child abuse victims, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a news release Thursday.

"Child abuse cases are some of the most complex and challenging incidents that law enforcement investigate," Hochul said. "Often there is not physical evidence to corroborate a child's disclosure and the perpetrator is someone the child knows. These and other unique circumstances illustrate why this training is so important."

Hochul unveiled the program at a news conference in Erie County, where state officials have launched a probe of the county's child protective services agency following the 2012 killing of Abdifatah Mohamud, 10, who was bludgeoned to death by his stepfather with a rolling pin, and the 2013 death of Eain Clayton Brooks, 4, who was sexually abused and beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend.

In 2012, 276 children died statewide from suspected abuse, neglect, or unknown reasons -- up from 265 in 2010, according to the latest Office of Children and Family Services figures provided to Newsday by state lawmakers.

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The online course was developed by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services and the New York State Children's Alliance, a Brooklyn nonprofit that advocates on behalf of children.

Andrea Ramos-Topper, director of the Suffolk Child Advocacy Center in Central Islip, which provides counseling to abuse victims, said the value of training is "immeasurable" because juvenile victims are often afraid to speak to authority figures about their experience.

"Child victims are traumatized and there is a very specific way of talking to them to reduce the trauma," Ramos-Topper said.

James Carver, president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, said in a phone interview that while officers already receive police academy training on responding to child abuse claims, "any type of training that makes us more aware of detecting and responding to child abuse is a positive step."