How officers catch local online predators

Shattered Innocence

Local 4 I-Team reporter Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw spoke with Scott County Detectives who are working to keep kids safe online.

WARNING: Viewers may find some images disturbing.

At the Scott County Sherriff’s Office, detectives say as technology evolves, so do the tactics predators use to manipulate children online.

Sergeant Joshua Wall said agencies like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children receive reports of crimes against kids, and pass what the find on to local law enforcement.

“There are currently 12 open cases [in Scott County],” Wall said. “The tips can come from other apps on phones or computers.”

After receiving a tip, they get to work.

“We’ll do an initial investigation to see who these people are. And then most of the time, we have to actually speak to these people and then gather evidence,” Wall said.

Gathering proof of inappropriate messages and photos helps them build a case against an adult that targeted a minor. Viewing disturbing materials can be a challenging task for investigators.

“It takes a lot out of us as well, mentally,” Wall said.

Deputy Sherrif Dan Grafton worked for 4 years as the department’s detective for internet crimes against children.

“It definitely takes a toll on your mental health,” Grafton said.

Because of the gruesome nature of the cases, he says a new officer fills the position every 5 years, which is the maximum amount of time someone can serve in this role. During his time in the department, he has learned the habits of online predators.

“They’re very good at manipulating and convincing these minors that it’s okay to talk to them,” Grafton said. “9 times out of 10, they’re not who they say they are.”

Detectives can use the strategy of pretending they are a child with a fake username to have conversations with suspects, ultimately building evidence against them.

Grafton says new ways to connect means the ways they investigate online crimes are always evolving.

“There’s always new apps coming out,” he said.

Grafton says parents should monitor what content is on their children’s devices.

“It’s always a good idea to periodically get on your child’s phone,” he said. “Go through their phone. If you see something inappropriate, you need to address that with your child.”

Other tips from police for monitoring your child’s internet use include:

  • Having conversations with your kids about being safe on the internet including:
    • Discourage them from accepting friend requests from people they do not know
    • Tell them to not engage in conversations with strangers online
    • Encourage them to not share personal information including their phone number, full name, address, etc.
  • When going through your child’s phone:
    • Read through text messages, messaging and social media apps
    • Look through photos saved on the device
    • Searching through browser history

For other tips for talking about internet safety, visit: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/net-safety.html

To report internet crimes against children, visit: https://report.cybertip.org/

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