July 3, 2012 (TALLAHASSEE) – The Florida Sheriffs Task Force, focusing on cyber sexual predators in coordination with the North, Central and South Florida Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces, has concluded a six-week series of collaborative stings to identify and arrest child predators in Bay, Broward, Citrus, Polk and Sarasota counties. This statewide initiative netted the highest number of predators in Florida to date, with the arrests of 119 male predators who engaged in a sex offense with a minor:
· Operation Riptide (Bay County) netted 12 arrests
· Operation Southern Sentinel (Broward County) netted 28 arrests (primarily child pornography and prostitution-related crimes, rather than traveling to meet minors for sex)
· Operation Summer Knights (Citrus County) netted 9 arrests (operation was cut short due to Tropical Storm Debby)
· Operation Cyber Child (Polk County) netted 38 arrests
· Operation Intercept (Sarasota County) netted 32 arrests
The stings resulted in the arrest of an elementary school teacher, a healthcare professional and a registered sex offender, among others. Most predators brought condoms, and other items ranging from Barbie dolls to gallons of milk.
Sheriff Ben Johnson of Volusia County, President of the Florida Sheriffs Association, said the collaborative effort helps make Florida safer for the state’s youth.
“As evidenced by its recent successes across the state to target online sexual predators, this approach uses best practices and collaboration in an effort to keep Florida’s children safe,” Johnson said. “The Florida Sheriffs Task Force, in collaboration with our other Florida partners, continues our targeted efforts to address areas of concern across the state.”
During the operations, undercover detectives posted fictitious ads or profiles on various websites such as Craigslist, posing as children or as the caretakers and guardians of children. Detectives also posed as children in online chat rooms. Numerous men responded to the ads and then proceeded to chat online, email, text, and talk on the phone with the undercover detectives posing as children online. The suspects solicited for sex acts, sent pornographic pictures and live web-cam images of themselves, and asked for nude photos of the children to be sent to them.
Broward County detectives also conducted a child recovery operation in conjunction with the FBI Minor Vice Task Force. During this two-day operation undercover detectives solicited ads from Backpage.com leading to the recovery of several children.
Florida’s Sheriffs announced their “Cyber Sexual Predator Initiative” to protect children and educate Floridians about the dangers of Internet predators in September of 2011. Since then, local, state and federal law enforcement officers from the ICAC task forces and Florida Department of Law Enforcement have arrested more than 320 sex crimes offenders in Florida.
“We are sending a clear message to predators everywhere that Florida Sheriffs and our law enforcement partners will not tolerate this type of despicable behavior.” said Florida Sheriff’s Task Force Chairman and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. “Protecting our children is our number one priority, and as long as there are predators out there who want to victimize our children, we will commit our resources to arresting them.”
The Florida Sheriffs Task Force has a long history of service in Florida, as it pools resources from the 67 Sheriffs’ Offices to address specific areas of concern. The first statewide Task Force operation held in July 1989 was organized to address the growing crack cocaine problem. It involved more than 1,500 law enforcement officers from various counties and resulted in 2,224 arrests. Since then, the Florida Sheriffs Task Force operations have gained national recognition, including an effort that removed $1.5 million of prescription drugs from the street, a crackdown on “Deadbeat Dads,” and mass arrests of Sexual Predators. The Florida Sheriffs Task Force also is the point of contact for statewide initiatives, including helping to staff the State Emergency Operations Center and coordinating Sheriffs' offices responding to storm-ravaged communities during hurricanes and other catastrophic disasters.
Florida law enforcement is aggressively investigating and arresting cyber predators,” said Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey. “We are opening new cases each day targeting those who are out to hurt our children.”
Chief Paul Sireci, Tampa International Airport and the Florida Police Chiefs Association’s President, stated, “The only way to locate, identify, arrest or apprehend those who use the internet to prey on our children for their own sexual gratification is to take consistent proactive measures and these collaborative efforts do just that.”
For more information about the cyber sexual predator initiative, click here. Parents and guardians can find tips for protecting children from cyber sexual predators through the Florida Sheriffs Association Child Safety Page at www.flsheriffs.org/child-safety.