HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Henrico Police are reinforcing efforts to track down online predators who may try to solicit sex with children on the internet.
Over the last two weeks, police arrested two men from Oklahoma and Maryland for soliciting sex with a minor via the computer.
“It’s not just in our town, it happens across the world,” a detective with HCPD’s Vice Investigations Unit said. “When I log on to some of these sites, I’m interacting with people not only from this country but other countries. The internet really doesn’t have much of a border.”
This section of the Vice Investigations Unit officially launched in March 2018. Detectives went to an online undercover school to receive training in how to engage with these predators and get accustomed to the equipment used in these investigations.
Since then, detectives have arrested and charged in excess of 30 individuals - some already convicted and sitting in prison. While police say that’s a success, there are still many concerns.
“The volume of it and how readily available it was, was what surprised me the most," the detective said.
The suspects were using various websites to connect with children, including social media. However, detectives are on those same sites impersonating children to nab the bad guys.
“They will make first contact with us,” the detective said. “Sometimes it’s very innocuous contact. Sometimes it’s just hello, how are you, would you like to chat? Other times it’s very blatant. The very first chat message I’ll get from someone is a question of sexual nature.”
The Henrico detectives are part of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program utilized across the country. Communicating with predators is an art, something that takes time depending on who they’re messaging.
“It’s not something that you start at eight in the morning and by five in the afternoon you’re done,” the detective said. “Some of these cases can take days, weeks, months of chatting and that has to be incorporated in all our other responsibilities.”
Characteristics for these individuals vary as well, the detective added you wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a group.
“We've had people from different social economic backgrounds, education levels, employed, unemployed, educated, not as educated," he said.
In the end, the mission for these detectives is simple - keep children safe.
"Who doesn't come into police work and say that you want part of your mission to help kids or to protect children,” the detective said. “That's at the core of what we do."
But police need your help to move this effort forward. Parents are urged to monitor your child’s computer usage and what websites and apps are being accessed.
“Keep the main computer in a common area so you as a parent can stroll by, and not necessarily invade your child’s privacy, but that you can stroll by their computer screen and see what they’re doing,” the detective said.
The most important measure, though, is to communicate with them about these crimes.
“Just the same as you teach your kid not to walk up to a van of a stranger and accept candy from someone hanging out the window,” the detective said. “It’s the same thing, the van has just turned into a computer or a cell phone."
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