Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Xenia police play roles to trap online predators

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        XENIA — The man asks if the girl likes older guys. “I'm 42,” the man says in the anonymity of an Internet chat room.

        “I'm 13,” the girl — who is not really a girl — tells him on the Internet. “Do you mind that I'm 13?”

        He doesn't mind, of course not. He says he's from Baltimore and he's had sex with a girl from Columbus who is 12.

[photo] Posing as a 13-year-old girl in an online chat room, Xenia Detective Alonzo Wilson communicates with a person about meeting for sex, while Detective Darrin Barlow discusses their unit's work.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        “We want to get his computer,” says Xenia Police Detective Alonzo Wilson, who has been chatting with the man since January, and is online with him now. “He's done a young girl in Columbus.”

        From a room with a computer at the Xenia police station, and from their own computers set up in their homes, Detectives Wilson and Darrin Barlow wage war on men who are looking for underage girls and boys.

        They head up a special unit of the police department called the Internet Child Protection Unit. Since last April they've arrested and charged 17 men with attempted corruption of minors, importuning, and attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.

        The men who were arrested thought they were meeting underage teens they had met on the Internet. The arrested range in age from 19 to 60, with the average age about 39. Many of them come from Ohio, but they've also flown in from Massachusetts and Texas. They've come west from Maryland, from Pittsburgh.

        The most recent, David Akers, arrested Sunday, drove up from Nicholasville, Ky. He was charged with attempted unlawful sexual conduct. Police said he thought he was meeting a young girl in the parking lot of a motel here.

        Instead, he met Detective Wilson.

        One man, a grandfather, came to Xenia with Viagra in his pocket. Another was already unbuttoning his pants by the time he pulled his truck into the parking lot for the rendezvous.

    The Xenia unit, though not unique, has gained wide notice because of its high-profile busts and the fact that it is based in a small city.
    Last year, the FBI reported a 550 percent increase in cyber-molesters during a two-year period.
    In Hamilton County, the Regional Computer Crimes Task Force tracks the same type of predator.
    A New Philadelphia man, 48, was arrested at a Camp Washington restaurant recently after trying to arrange a rendezvous with a 15-year-old boy who turned out to be a member of the Hamilton County task force.
        Another worked at a flower shop. “But he never offered to bring me flowers,” said Detective Wilson.

        Both detectives play the role of young girls, between the ages of 12 and 15.

        “It's hard to explain, it's a real problem,” said Detective Barlow. He has three daughters, ages 5, 11 and 13. “If you can save just one person, it's worth it.”

        Both Xenia detectives get on the Internet and into a chat room at any time of day and resume conversations with men looking for underage sex.

        Detective Barlow is using one screen name and is talking with 36 people. Detective Wilson has two screen names and is in touch with 35 to 40.

        “My 36 think I'm 12 years old,” said Detective Barlow.

        Another arrest, they say, is just a day away. Any day someone finally wants to meet one of them. Thinking they're meeting an underage girl.

        • • •

        Xenia is city of about 25,000. The last time a homicide was reported was in 1999. Last year, the police handled just one rape. They investigated just 16 robberies. The crime of choice here is theft.

        “There is no fear here that people are running around shooting other people,” said Police Chief Eric Prindle.

        Xenia is located in Greene County, where almost 19 percent of the population of 146,000 was between the ages of 5 and 17, according to the 1990 census.

        The detectives do not pursue anyone who immediately backs off when he believes he's chatting with an underage girl. And many do. But others do not. For them, age is what matters.

        A meeting is set up. The 17 men have shown up in parks, in parking lots, at restaurants, at a motel. They show up and meet either Detective Barlow or Detective Wilson.

        “They are disappointed,” said Detective Wilson.

        “The unit's done a great job,” said Chief Prindle. “But there's so much of it going on, I don't know if we're even making a dent. But it tells you there's a problem. When the harm's already been done to a teen-age girl, you cannot restore that child. So this is a proactive approach that's important. Let's protect our kids.”

        Both detectives say there is no clear profile to the 17 they've arrested, except an affinity for young girls. Many of them are married; some of them travel for a living; most do not have criminal records, although many had admitted on the Internet before their arrest to having had sex with young girls.

        If nothing else, the detectives hope the publicity about their work encourages parents to better monitor their childrens' computer habits.

        “We want people to know,” said Detective Wilson.

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