Archive for Thursday, January 17, 2008

More headlines, coverage for online efforts of police

January 17, 2008

In the past few months, the headlines and television news reports have focused on the Baldwin City Police Department's arrests of two online sexual predators.

Many were surprised that the Baldwin police had an undercover online investigation operation. Officers have been getting training in combating cyber crime for around two years.

It's starting to pay off as evident by the two high-profile arrests, the first a 38-year-old Carbondale man in November and the second a 45-year-old Missouri man in December.

Police Chief Mike McKenna knew it was just a matter of time and he also knows there's no end in sight.

"Yes, I'm proud of our officers," said McKenna. "I'm proud of the work they've done and the cases they've made. Without a doubt, they've stopped the abduction or exploitation of children several times now.

"It's like the waves of the ocean - it never stops," he said.

He cited statistics that show there are 100,000 online sexual predators active at any given hour of the day.

"They could be sitting in Georgia or they could be in Gardner talking to you," he said.

That is illustrated in the two arrests made; one from nearby Carbondale and the other an interstate truck driver who was previously convicted of sex crimes in California and Arkansas.

"I believe we have demonstrated that there is a need to help protect people in the community online as well as the street," said McKenna. "Our responsibilities carry over to the Internet. Internet crime is nationwide and it goes on 24/7, including right here in Baldwin City.

"I think it's naÃive for someone to be talking to anyone online and believing anything they're saying without knowing who they are," he said.

And, it's not just online sexual predators that are staying busy on the Internet.

"Sexual solicitation isn't the only thing we're finding," said McKenna. "More and more we're finding people that have gotten scammed online here in Baldwin City. They develop friendships online. They say 'I need so much money for my health problems and can you loan the money or send the money?'

"Once the money leaves the country, it goes beyond our jurisdiction," he said.

McKenna started having his officers get the training from the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children years ago. There was even an all-day class from the agency given in Baldwin City that had law enforcement personnel from all around the area attend.

"We have three officers that have received training to conduct these types of investigations," he said.

The amount of time the officers put into cyber crime depends on the week. They also make their contacts - mostly via e-mail - at various times of the day.

"It varies according to their schedules and other priorities," McKenna said of the time officers devote to the Internet. "They can't just make contacts between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. That would send up a red flag."

He also said the cyber crime investigations in no way impact the officer's other duties.

"I would not allow that," he said.

But, from there, McKenna is leery to give too many details about how the investigations are done. The officers do post to various Web sites, including but not limited to Facebook.com and Myspace.com. From there, the contacts most generally involve e-mail.

Other details, including how the computers used are "cloaked" as to not allow it to be discovered that it's law enforcement involved, weren't shared.

"I can't go there," he said.

What he will talk about at length is the need to educate children regarding the Internet. He thinks that's extremely vital.

"We have a safety program that we can present to K-12 students in addition to their teachers and parents," said McKenna. "It's called Netsmart and is created by the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children. It teaches kids and teens how to be safer online.

"As a police chief, I think that is an important program to get in our schools through our School Resource Officer," he said.

In both of the recent arrests, the men believed they were in contact with girls who were 13 years old. In reality, they were in contact with the officers.

"I think it's important that the citizens of Baldwin City are excellent about keeping their eyes on their kids," said McKenna. "They know when the kids go to the pool and they know when they should return.

"But, I think they're remiss in that the computer they so enjoy can be harmful, such as dropping them off on a street they don't know," he said. "We need to give them the tools to protect themselves on the Internet. That's the protection we need to give our children on the Internet."

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